ANALYSIS: Emirates rethink leaves 777 as large-twin backbone

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Emirates’ decision to axe its 70 Airbus A350s follows not only its A380 order but its decision to back heavily the launch of the Boeing 777X.

The Dubai-based carrier’s all-widebody fleet has centred on the 777 and the A380, but the airline opted for Airbus’s large Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-powered twin in 2007.

Emirates had considered increasing the order by a further 30 A350s after signing a letter of intent, which also included 30 A330s, the following year.

But the follow-on deal did not materialise. Emirates also began to hint that it wanted a larger twin than the A350-900, to meet its fleet needs.

While the carrier had signed up to the A350-1000, in its original guise, it expressed dissatisfaction with Airbus’s decision to redesign the aircraft in order to compete more effectively with the Boeing 777-300ER.

Emirates became a launch customer for the 777X at the Dubai air show last year, with a commitment for up to 200, appearing to leave the A350-1000 isolated.

President Tim Clark had said the -1000s were not being traded as part of its deal for 50 more A380s, also placed during the show. He also indicated that the -1000s could operate alongside the 777X.

But the cancellation of its entire A350 order – including the -1000s – following the A380 agreement, and a review of Emirates’ fleet requirements, means the loss of the type’s second-largest customer.

Airbus chief operating officer for customers John Leahy declines to disclose the commercial details of the cancellation. But he stresses that the Emirates decision is not linked to any A350 performance data.

“It was cancelled just recently,” he said, during a briefing at the airframer’s headquarters in Toulouse. He admits the decision is “not the world’s greatest news” but says it will not have a lasting financial impact, and that the A350 programme is “still in great shape”.

Leahy adds that the airframer has already been taking enquiries about the A350 slots left open by the Emirates change.

Qatar Airways, the largest, has 80 on order and is due to take delivery of the first this year. The airline is also a customer for the 777X but illustrated its commitment to the A350-1000 by converting part of its A350 order to the larger type.

Airbus still has a backlog of 169 A350-1000s and 539 A350-900s, as well as 34 of the smaller -800 variant.

Emirates and Qatar rival Etihad Airways, which is also a 777X customer, has 62 A350s on order including 22 -1000s.