Even though the final Airbus A380 has rolled off the production line in Toulouse, Emirates Airline – and president Tim Clark – are still madly in love with the superjumbo, as the carrier looks forward to welcoming the last three of the type into the fleet later this year.
“We have what I think is one of the most beautiful aircraft that’s ever flown,” Clark says on the sidelines of the IATA World Air Transport Summit in Boston on 5 October. “We created a Ritz Carlton, unashamedly, and we use all the tricks and gizmos and gadgets.
“What you see on the inside that airplane was designed exclusively by us,” he adds.
Emirates has 118 of the type in its fleet, 39 of which are currently in service, according to Cirium fleets data. Late last month the airline said that it aims to have more than 50 back flying by the end of the year, under plans to restore 70% of its overall pre-crisis capacity.
The airline has been re-introducing the A380 across its schedule, and is looking to send the jet to 27 destinations in the coming months, up from 16 currently. Among them will be gateways in the US and Latin America such as New York JFK, Los Angeles and Sao Paolo, European hubs including Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Madrid, Munich and Zurich, and destinations in the Middle East and Africa including Johannesburg and Riyadh.
Emirates’ customers can’t wait for the aircraft to return, either, Clark insists.
“The notion that the technocrats, the accountants who all say this aircraft is not fit for its purpose, it is environmentally unfriendly, et cetera – that doesn’t resonate with our travelling public,” he says.
“They absolutely love that aeroplane.”
The airline’s last three A380s – among the last ever built – are scheduled to be delivered in the coming weeks, bringing the number of the type in the fleet to 121. That is almost half of Airbus’ entire production run for the double-decker.
Emirates’ final airframe, MSN272, which will be delivered in December, was the last A380 to roll off the assembly line in March. Since then, it has been at Airbus in Hamburg for outfitting.
The three airframes will have Emirates’ new premium-economy cabin in a four-class layout, bringing to six the number of aircraft with that layout.
Clark is wistful about the end of the superjumbo’s run, especially since the aircraft was, in essence, a blank canvas for the carrier. In the early 2000s, when it was first conceived and developed, air travel demand was exploding, and Emirates needed a step-change in capacity, and quickly.
“We took some really bold moves with regard to redefining what kind of product we were going to offer, and always pushing out cutting edge to cutting edge,” he says.
“It was a wonderful, exciting challenge to be able to roll up your sleeves and deal with this enormous capacity; there’s always space to do what you wanted to do with it.”
“It’s sad that it came to an end as it did,” he says of the aircraft that at times accounted for 80% of the carrier’s profits. He suggests that other airlines with A380s in their fleets did not operate the type in a way that brought out its best – ultimately contributing to its demise.
“Many carriers couldn’t seem to make the thing work. And for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why,” Clark says.
That said, he pledges to put the A380s to good use in the post-pandemic era, and expects the airline to operate them profitably – with a lower per-seat cost than A350s or Boeing 787s when outfitted with similar seat density – well into the 2030s as it continues to focus on its hub-and-spoke strategy out of its Dubai home base.
“A lot of people are saying to me now that the days of the ‘super-hub’ are over and that long-haul A350, A321XLR [flights] are going to be the future,” Clark says. “Well I don’t share that view at all. At all!
“And I still believe that there is a place for the A380.”