Further production setback leaves gap from which rival’s 747-8 family could profit, with Emirates a possible buyer

The major new delay that has hit the A380 programme threatens to leave Airbus dangerously exposed to an onslaught from Boeing’s 747-8 family, with key launch customer Emirates revealing that it is seriously evaluating the 470-seater for its fleet. The latest A380 production delay has closed the service-entry gap between the two rivals’ ultra-large passenger models, and completely destroyed Airbus’s slim availability advantage in the freighter sector.

Emirates, whose 45 orders (including two leased aircraft) represents a third of the entire A380 passenger aircraft orderbook, will have to wait two years for its first aircraft having suffered another 12-month slip with the latest rescheduling. The first delivery of the airline’s Engine Alliance GP7200-powered A380 is now due in October 2008 – having originally been due for delivery around now – and the airline’s president Tim Clark says that he has told Airbus “in no uncertain terms of the seriousness of this further delay, and its impact on our future operations”.

He tells Flight International that “given the number of A380s Emirates has purchased, this latest delay has compromised our network growth. It represents a major setback and our focus now is on how best to recapture our planned capacity growth curve.”

The Dubai flag carrier’s cargo division is already a customer for the 747-8 Freighter, and Clark says that the yet-to-be-launched 467-seat 747-8 Intercontinental is being seriously considered for the airline division. “It is in a different size category to the [550-seat] A380 and thus does not represent a meaningful substitute,” says Clark, but he adds that the airline has been evaluating the 747-8I “as a matter of course – and had been doing so well before the A380 saga”.

Clark says that, on initial examination, the 747-8I seems to have a number of attributes – for example its payload/range – which could well fit our requirements, and we are working with Boeing on Emirates’ specifications.”

Boeing thinks it is too early to tell whether the latest delay to the A380 will help re-energise its sales campaigns for the 747-8I, but acknowledges that the potential entry-into-service gap between the two is inexorably closing with the latest delivery estimates.

Emirates A380
© Airbus 
 Emirates passengers will have to wait more years to fly on an A380

“It’s getting closer,” says 747-8 programme manager and vice president Dan Mooney. The 747-8I is still aiming for service entry in mid-2010, around nine months after the September 2009 target for the 747-8F with launch customer Cargolux.

The latest delays have pushed the A380’s first significant delivery year to 2008, with full production (45 aircraft) not now expected until 2010. The delays have also eliminated the A380 Freighter’s lead over the 747-8F, with deliveries to launch operator FedEx Express slipping to 2010 from the original 2008 target.

As for the impact of the A380 slide on accelerating the launch or generating greater sales of the 747-8I, Mooney says “it’s going to take a while for that to sort itself out. Time will tell, but in the meantime we’re staying focused on getting the final configuration for the 747-8F nailed down.”

Boeing has been disappointed by the sluggish market response to the 747-8I compared with the 747-8F, which, by contrast, has attracted more early business than expected, with 47 firm commitments to date including 16 orders placed last week. “We have a number of campaigns ongoing [for the 747-8I] and we are still optimistic of a few orders soon,” says Mooney.

Source: Flight International