Emirates is considering swapping its order for 50 Airbus A350-900s for A350-1000s as Airbus works on finalising the design for the stretched variant.
The Dubai-based carrier placed orders in November 2007 for 70 A350 XWBs, initially specifying 50 of the baseline -900s and 20 -1000s. But Emirates president Tim Clark says over the last three years the carrier's network has matured to the point it "can no longer tolerate anything under 300" seats.
Emirates is currently slated to take 290-seat A350-900s from April 2015. The A350-1000s would be a better fit for Emirates but Clark says it has to balance the fact it would need to wait longer for the -1000.
"It [the -900] is now appearing to too small," Clark told reporters in Washington DC on 9 February, "So we may slip the order to the -1000 but the -1000 hasn't been frozen yet. We've got 70 out there. We haven't decided quite yet which one we'll take. We're actually playing around with how this order fits."
The A350-900 is now scheduled to enter service in 2013. Airbus last summer provided a 2014 entry into service date for the -800 shrink and a 2015 date for the -1000 stretch. But Clark says the only option for Emirates if it wants to take A350s in 2015 is to stick with the -900.
Delivery dates for the A350-1000 are not likely to be firmed up until the design is frozen, which could take some time as some carriers including Emirates continue to press Airbus for changes. Clark says with the current design the -1000 will not have a range or payload comparable to the Boeing 777-300ER.
"Airbus compares the -1000 to the 777-300ER. I've told to them in no uncertain terms it does not. I see it as a 320, 330-seater which will be very economical on missions up to 10 or 12 hours," Clark says.
"The notion that it would fly from Singapore to European gateways in the winter months with 100 knots on the nose is a bit of an ask. We've suggested they need to come to grips with that, which means they need to increase the takeoff weight and they need to increase propulsion."
The aircraft is now slated to be powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines but Clark says "I'm not sure they will do the job".
Clark also would not be surprised if delays are encountered with the baseline -900. "I think the programme will slow down. I think they'll be optimistic on their ramp up. I think like Boeing found they are finding it hard," he says. "But in the end this is the future of aircraft manufacturing and they will have to tough it out. I hope they do the right thing on it and I'm sure they will."
Emirates is prepared should its A350-900s be delayed beyond 2015 or if it decides to wait for the -1000. Clark says the 30 additional 777-300ERs Emirates ordered last year provide a "safety net" against possible A350 delays but if the A350s end up arriving on time the carrier will have enough markets to take in both types.
Clark says the original thinking was to for the A350-900s to replace Emirates' 777-200s, A330-200s and A340-300s. Emirates has about 45 of these aircraft, which are scheduled to be phased out over the next seven years. But the carrier has the flexibility to retain these aircraft for longer, and Clark points out Emirates recently decided to extend four A330s beyond their original 2012 retirement date.