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DUBAI: Emirates seeks assurances over A380 continuity

Emirates is unlikely to conclude an Airbus A380 agreement during the Dubai air show, as the two sides continue a chicken-and-egg wrangle over commitments to the double-deck aircraft's production line.

The Dubai-based carrier's owners have yet to be sufficiently assured that Airbus will maintain production of the A380 – even though Emirates, which is virtually carrying the production line single-handed, would naturally have substantial influence on the line's longevity by placing a large follow-on order.

Emirates Airline president Tim Clark says the carrier is seeking undertakings that the line would continue for 10-15 years, adding that the airline's ownership is "concerned" that further commitments would "not be [put] at risk" if the line is discontinued.

"I don't believe that [commitment] would be difficult for Airbus to deliver," Clark said, speaking during the Dubai show, adding that Emirates' backlog of 42 aircraft is already supporting the continuation of the line to the "middle of next decade".

"If it's an Emirates order that sustains the line, so be it," he adds.

Emirates' owners are aware of the "dearth" of orders for the A380, says Clark. Airbus has 58 A380s on backlog from other customers but for some 40 of these there is little evidence of moves towards manufacture.

Airbus has slashed production rates on the type and Clark indicates that the carrier's owners are sensitive to the overall perception of the A380's situation and prospects, particularly given that the A380 only achieved production break-even two years ago and a substantial cut in output is detrimental to the line's still-marginal economics.

Clark declines to indicate the number of aircraft being discussed but signals that, if an Emirates order is forthcoming, it would include "copper-bottomed" assurances on production.

He is convinced that the A380 has a future and that Emirates has an interest in contributing to the type's continuity.

"It remains our flagship," he says. "It's a huge profit-earner for us – the loss of which would be significant."

Clark is not particularly enthused by the modified A380plus unveiled at the Paris air show this year, stating that while the aircraft offers "small percentages" of improvement, he is "not really" a fan – seeing little benefit to Emirates in the 11-abreast seating or redesigned staircase.

"We'd rather they just offer continuation of the line, flesh out the order, then went [back to] development," he says, adding that the A380 is a "fundamentally good" aircraft which Airbus needs to promote to carriers which have the "same aspiration" as Emirates.

He stresses that the aircraft's current configuration works for the carrier and suggests that additional seats only make sense if airline managers believe they can fill them. Clark says he has "not been impressed" by the choices some carriers have made for their A380 cabins, and adds that he believes Airbus specialists already know how to improve the aircraft without raising seat-counts.

Emirates is currently taking delivery of Rolls-Royce Trent 900-powered A380s. While Clark says he "might contemplate talking to both sides" in the event of a follow-on order, he believes a "revitalisation" of the line would help bring the "big players" together and trigger efforts to improve the aircraft's capabilities.

While Emirates is likely to miss the Dubai show window for a formal decision on the A380s, Clark appears confident that the two sides will reach an agreement.

"We need to have that undertaking," he says. "I believe Airbus will deliver that undertaking."

For all the coverage from the Dubai air show visit our dedicated event page

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