Emirates’ decision to order 70 Airbus long-haul twinjets, and cancel dozens of A380s, comes almost five years after it cancelled 70 twinjets after opting for an A380 deal.
The Dubai-based airline’s rejig also resurrects its interest in the A350 which had ended when it axed an order for 70 of the type – including 50 -900s and 20 -1000s – in 2014.
Emirates’ cancellation of the A350s followed an agreement for 50 A380s it had unveiled at the Dubai air show a few months earlier. The order was firmed in December 2013, and Emirates subsequently selected the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 to power the jets.
But the revised agreement disclosed by Airbus in Toulouse, during its full-year results presentation, shows that Emirates will again commit to the A350-900, with a deal for 30, and lift the prospects for the A330neo by taking 40 of the -900 variant.
It will start taking the A330-900s in 2021 and the A350s in 2024, the carrier states.
Emirates started to reconsider the A350-900 after the twinjet entered service, evaluating the type against the Boeing 787-9 and -10.
Boeing appeared to have prevailed in the contest when, at the Dubai air show in 2017, Emirates revealed it had selected the 787-10 with plans to take 40 from 2022.
But the deal has yet to appear in the Boeing backlog, and no engine selection has been made for the -10s between the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 and the General Electric GEnx.
Emirates president Tim Clark had indicated at the time that the decision effectively shut out Airbus’s chances to place the A350 with the carrier, although he noted that Airbus had belatedly started marketing changes to the -900 which might have influenced Emirates’ decision.
Both the A350-900 and the A330-900 are powered by Rolls-Royce Trent engines.
Emirates’ commitment to the two types is a “great endorsement” of the airframer’s long-haul twinjet strategy, says Airbus commercial aircraft president Guillaume Faury.
“We are fully committed to deliver on the long-standing confidence Emirates is placing in Airbus.”
Emirates’ agreement for the A330-900 will provide a substantial lift for the programme – which had 238 orders at the end of January – and return the airline to A330 operations following its withdrawal of older variants of the twinjet in 2017.
Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum says the carrier is a "staunch supporter" of the A380 since its inception.
"While we are disappointed to have to give up our order, and sad that the programme could not be sustained, we accept that this is the reality of the situation," he says.
Emirates' A330-900s and A350-900s will "complement" the fleet mix, he adds, being respectively deployed on regional and long-haul routes to give the carrier "more flexibility to better serve seasonal or opportunistic demand".