Dubai-based carrier pits Airbus against Boeing in quest to acquire widebody that can reach US East Coast

Emirates is to intensify its search for a long-range widebody by evaluating the Boeing 777-300ER alongside a proposed extended-range Airbus A340-600.

In November, the carrier signed an eight-aircraft memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Airbus for a planned high gross-weight version of the Rolls-Royce Trent 500-powered A340-600, in addition to a deal with Boeing for 25 more 777s.

The new Airbus would incorporate a gross-weight increase to around 376t and more powerful engines, with first deliveries in April 2005. "The aircraft would be able to fly a payload of around 45-47t to US East Coast points from Dubai, year round," says Emirates chief director Tim Clark.

The MoU, which is believed to expire in December, is conditional, however, on Airbus launching the programme. "We're waiting for Airbus to decide what it does," says Clark. Meanwhile, he says the long-range, General Electric GE90-powered 777-300ER "will enter the frame sooner rather than later".

This 777 model rivals the A340-600 in size, although Clark says the Airbus has a better payload/range performance. The manufacturer is still evaluating its A340-500/600 development strategy, and is believed to have discussed the new model with other A340 operators including Cathay Pacific.

Although Emirates is a major 777 operator, until now it has not planned to operate the new -300ER derivative. It flies 13 R-R Trent 800-powered 777-200/300s, but is yet to select an engine for the 25 new aircraft that are due for delivery from next year. "We would have the flexibility to take some of these as the -300ER," says Clark, adding that engine selection for the 777s should be made within months.

Source: Flight International