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Re-engined A380 prospects hazy as Emirates takes Trent 900

Emirates believes it has room to convert some of its Rolls-Royce-powered Airbus A380s to a future re-engined version, but is prepared to fit all 50 with the Trent 900 if there is no sign of movement from the airframer.

Speaking at an event in London the Middle Eastern carrier’s president, Tim Clark, said that the first 25 A380s would arrive between late 2016 and the first quarter of 2018.

Delivery of the second batch of 25 is “further out”, he says, but Emirates is “trying to advance some of them” to around 2019-20.

Clark did not clarify the number which might be brought forward but a delivery date before 2020 would appear to rule out any possibility of these A380s being fitted with a completely new engine.

The switch to the Trent by the A380’s largest customer, however, puts Rolls-Royce in a strong position to consider an alternative engine for the type – particularly given that the degree of technological advancement and investment on the rival Engine Alliance GP7200 has reached something of a “flat line”, claims Clark.

Emirates has been pressing for a re-engined version of the aircraft, with promises of large supplemental orders, but Clark says the carrier still waiting for Airbus to decide whether it has a business case to proceed.

“I don’t want to suggest the current aircraft isn’t a good machine because it is. It’s the most profitable aircraft in our fleet,” he says.

But he suggests that a combination of weight reduction, aerodynamic clean-up and a new engine could generate an economic improvement in the 10-13% range.

“If they manage to do that, the performance of the aircraft will be stellar,” he says.

Clark says that Emirates “could convert some” of its Trent 900-powered A380s to a theoretical re-engined variant but stresses that it is content to put the Trent on all 50 aircraft.

The $9.2 billion deal with Rolls-Royce, he says, “underlines our commitment to the A380” but Clark stresses that there was no condition attached to the aero engine manufacturer to produce a new engine for the type.

Airbus had previously stated that Emirates’ order for the 50 A380s was not dependent on development of a new powerplant.

Clark says the airline is “naturally keen” to see a re-engined version, and for Airbus to keep producing the A380. “In the absence of a [re-engined aircraft] we’d still have [A380s for replacement],” he says. “Of course, we’re interested in any improvement.”

After placing the 50-aircraft order in 2013, Emirates opted to review the propulsion arrangement it had with incumbent Engine Alliance.

Rolls-Royce presented an “extremely compelling” business case, says Clark, and the Trent 900 has reached a “very mature state”.

The engine manufacturer’s chief executive, John Rishton, says that the agreement to take the Trent 900s is a “powerful vote of confidence in our technology”.

But he declined to be drawn on the prospects for a new A380 engine during the Emirates event. “Airbus has to make that decision,” he says. “If they were to make that decision, we’d support them [with a product].”

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