Emirates’ decision to switch to Rolls-Royce engines for its latest batch of Airbus A380s nudges the UK manufacturer ahead of rival Engine Alliance, although the lead amounts to fewer than a dozen aircraft.

But snaring the primary customer for the A380 puts Rolls-Royce in a strong position for potential future powerplant development on the type.

Engine Alliance’s contract to power 90 Emirates A380s had been the keystone holding up the GP7200’s advantage over the Trent 900. Emirates’ defection to the Trent means the engine will be fitted to 149 ordered A380s, compared with 138 for the GP7200.

Engines for another 30 A380s – comprising 20 destined for lessor Amadeo and 10 undisclosed aircraft initially assigned to Hong Kong Airlines – have yet to be picked.

Engine Alliance was still powering a greater number of in-service aircraft at the end of March 2015, a total of 84 against the Trent’s 72.

Rolls-Royce has been developing a new build standard for its powerplant, designated the EP2, which trims the fuel burn with technological advances including improved cooling for the turbine case and an optimised intermediate-pressure compressor.

Before the Emirates selection the Trent 900 delivery backlog had whittled to 27 aircraft following the cancellation of six Trent-powered A380s for Japan’s Skymark Airlines.

Among the 27 are six for Virgin Atlantic but the carrier has previously admitted that it is unlikely to take delivery of the type.

The other 21 had been bound for British Airways, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Asiana and Qantas.

Flightglobal Ascend’s head of consultancy, Rob Morris, describes the Trent pact as a “key contract win” but adds: “One must wonder what the price of overturning Engine Alliance’s incumbency was. Presumably Rolls-Royce judge it a price worth paying in the long term.

“If the reported performance improvements being offered are correct then that is probably a key selection driver for Emirates who will benefit from improved economics and payload range.”

With Rolls-Royce having put the Trent XWB into service and initiated two new high-bypass future engine programmes – designated Advantage and UltraFan – the company has laid foundations to offer a possible new engine for the A380 if Airbus opts to re-engine the type.

Engine Alliance partner General Electric last year indicated that it was not keen to pursue a new engine development for the A380.

Emirates president Tim Clark alluded to the strategy during an event in London at which the Trent selection for the carrier’s A380s was disclosed. Clark suggested that the future A380 engine market was “moving towards a one-horse situation”, although he stressed that the Trent choice was not linked with any deal to build a new A380 engine.

The carrier is intending to introduce the Trent-powered A380s in 2016. While two aircraft built for Skymark have yet to be assigned to a new customer, Clark appeared unwilling to consider taking them, suggesting they might need too much reworking to meet the Emirates specification.

Engine Alliance has a backlog of 54 A380s. Emirates is due to take 31, with other customers comprising Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Air France, Transaero and Air Austral.

Air Austral tells Flightglobal that it is no longer intending to take high-density A380s – originally due to be fitted with 840 seats – and while the aircraft remain in the Airbus order book a delivery date is unclear.

Transaero is intending to have a high-density 652-seat configuration on its four A380s, first deliveries of which had been due this year – although the airline has been reviewing 2015 capacity requirements in the wake of a deterioration in Russia’s economic situation.

Source: Cirium Dashboard