Growing tourism forecasts are driving a reappraisal of the Dubai-based carrier's strategy for the next 10 years

Emirates is finalising a new business plan which is set to result in a huge increase in fleet size by the end of the decade.

The rapidly expanding Dubai-based carrier has been working on the plan since early this year following a request from its owner, the Dubai Government, to reconsider its strategy after an increase in tourism growth forecasts for the region over the next 10 years.

"We will tell our shareholder what is possible in the next couple of months," says Emirates chief director airline Tim Clark.

The 16-year-old carrier has been growing capacity at an average of 20-30% per year, despite a strict control on ensuring an above 70% passenger load factor.

The growth has been built on the back of the increasing importance of Dubai as a trading centre, combined with the hub strategy that Emirates has pursued at the United Arab Emirates airport. Its network now includes over 50 destinations.

The airline's all-widebody fleet comprises 34 aircraft - four Airbus A300/A310s, 17 A330-200s, nine Boeing 777-200s, and four -300s. A further 17 aircraft are on firm order including five 550-seat Airbus A380s and two A380 freighters. The airline's original plan had envisioned its fleet steadily growing to about 55 aircraft by 2010, but the expansion is now likely to be much greater. "We're looking at what's possible, given the normal prerequisites: ie that we continue to profitable, we can fund the expansion from the international markets and we can grow our infrastructure to cope," says Clark.

Although he will not confirm the rumoured 200-plus aircraft target, he says that in the analysis of potential fleet growth "we're into some big numbers". Clark says that he anticipates the 20-30% annual growth will continue. The fleet plan being studied assumes an all-widebody fleet, he adds.

The next stage of Emirates' fleet development will begin late next year when deliveries begin of its six ultra-long-range A340-500s. These will allow the airline to launch direct flights to the USA (including the west coast) and Australia.

Clark says that its 10 options could be exercised as the larger A340-600 if Airbus is able to meet Emirates' performance requirements.

"We need an aircraft that can carry a 45t payload from Dubai on 14h missions in temperatures of 40-45°C (104-113°F)," he says.

The airline aims to be involved in the definition of Boeing's proposed sonic cruiser high speed airliner, and sees applications both for premium passenger markets and time sensitive freight.

Source: Flight International