Airbus has pitched Emirates an attractive offer for the proposed winglet-equipped A380plus, but the Dubai airline is reluctant to place an order until there is more clarity around the future of the programme.
Emirates is also keen on a retrofit option, but Airbus is focusing on the new-build offer.
"They're trying to get us to buy more," says Emirates Airline president Tim Clark.
Emirates is due to take its 100th A380 in October "and behind that we have another 40, so obviously we would be interested in anything they could do", adds Clark.
He says Airbus is well aware that Emirates wants to "continue buying A380s", and that the airframer "desperately wants to put them into us at terms that make sense.
"Airbus says: 'We're going to reduce the price – it's a very good price – we're going to reduce the escalations per year, we're going to give you this, this and this' – and that's kind of interesting because I know I've got ones coming up for retirement."
Emirates' oldest A380 was delivered in 2008, and Clark says this is currently due to be retired when its financial lease ends in 2021.
Clark, who has no interest in the cabin densification package Airbus has proposed, says he is not ready to commit to more new A380s because "there are too many questions out there which need to be answered. And they need to put these into airlines."
He is concerned that the sales drought is forcing dramatic production rate cuts and wants to see Airbus drum up more A380 business beyond Emirates.
"If [Airbus] can make it work on six [deliveries] a year, well that's up to them – I don't know how it does that, but there you are. The trick is to try to persuade others to buy it."
With Airbus trying to find incremental sales, it is not currently looking at offering the winglet upgrade as a retrofit. But Clark would like Airbus to consider making it available.
"If I put those winglets on our current fleet and they improve the performance by 4%, then we'd bite their arms off," he says.
"I think they'd probably guarantee 2.5% so you know you'll probably get a bit more than that... and I would look at it, depending on the cost of retrofit – if it's going to cost me $10 million a pop then we probably wouldn't do it."