Emirates wants more visibility from Boeing on 777X, President says

The biggest customer of the wide-body jet will have a 'grown-up conversation' with the US plane maker in the next few months, Tim Clark says

FILE PHOTO: Emirates Airline President Tim Clark speaks at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, UAE April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo
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Emirates, the world's biggest long-haul carrier, is seeking more visibility from Boeing on the delivery times and performance of the delayed 777X wide-body aircraft that is still under development.

The airline, which is Boeing's biggest customer of the 777X, will have a "grown-up" discussion with the US plane maker over the coming months about when it will receive the aircraft, Emirates president Tim Clark said at the World Aviation Festival webinar on Wednesday.

"We will be having what I hope will be a grown-up conversation with the Boeing Company sometime in the next few months," Mr Clark said. "We need to know exactly what the airplane is going to do and what's going to be delivered."

The Dubai-based airline has an order for 126 of the 777X, Boeing's newest jet that is facing a lengthy development and certification timeline. Boeing said the plane's debut is now slated for late 2023, following several delays and was originally due to enter service with Emirates in the summer of 2020.

"It's unlikely that we're going to get it before 2023 or probably even 2024 and there are all sorts of hoops that they have to go through with regards to certification, build and all the other various regulatory requirements."

The 777X is Boeing's first new aircraft to be certified since flight software flaws in the 737 Max model caused two fatal crashes, which triggered allegations about the close relationship between Boeing and the US aviation regulator. The 777X programme now faces a longer certification process after scrutiny over the 737 Max.

"Boeing builds very good airplanes, they design very good airplanes and I don't want to cast any doubt on that at all, it's simply how they're built and under what conditions, what new quality controls they're coming in with, that's slowing the whole process," Mr Clark said.

The airline chief said Emirates has not made a decision on the final composition of its Boeing fleet mix of 777Xs yet until it gets more updates from Boeing on the new jet.

"We'd like more visibility on exactly when we're going to receive these airplanes and exactly what they're going to be able to do with regards to performance on the contractual side of things, including propulsion. So we [don't have] visibility either on delivery or performance at this stage in the game," Mr Clark said. "So we're kind of reserving our position on where we are with this airplane."

Emirates is the biggest operator of the Boeing 777 mini-jumbos and was involved with the early design of the revamped 777X in 2010.


Boeing 777X - in pictures


The airline is considering converting some of its older 777 passenger aircraft into freighters as demand for air cargo remains strong during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Clark said.

Emirates is also working with budget airline Flydubai on broadening their partnership through greater network and fleet integration to create an even bigger international hub in Dubai, Mr Clark said.

"Clearly the value of having two airlines joined at the hip makes more sense now than in the past," he said.

Greater collaboration between the two airlines, which have deepened ties since 2017, will lead to a drop in unit costs and "stupendous" income, he said.

Mr Clark, 70, who delayed his retirement plan in mid-2020 to help Emirates navigate through the Covid-19 crisis, said he wants to set the airline's future path before stepping down but did not set a retirement date.

The aviation veteran said his successor has to be focused, driven and work well with the Flydubai chief. His replacement could be an internal candidate "if I had it my way" but an executive from within Dubai's aviation sector would also a be viable option, he said.

Emirates has sufficient cash to cover its operations for the next six to eight months but may need to raise more cash if air travel demand does not rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic by then, Mr Clark said.

The state-owned airline will make the recommendation to the Dubai government on raising cash with options including further equity from the government, taking on more debt or other measures, he said.

Mr Clark remains hopeful for a revival in demand during the summer season, as vaccine campaigns continue not just in Western countries but also in developing markets.