Emirates and the future of its flagship Airbus A380

The Dubai Air Show could be Airbus’s last chance for an order in 2015.

An Emirates A380 on display at the Dubai Air Show in 2013. Christopher Pike / The National

With the Dubai Air Show just around the corner, the future of the world’s largest plane, the A380, is still uncertain. Its maker, Airbus, is preparing for what could be its last hope of the year to sell its flagship jet following three years without a new order.

Last year, Airbus signalled the possibility of discontinuing its A380 superjumbo programme. The European plane maker is breaking even on the plane for 2015, 2016 and 2017, but the future of the double-decker aircraft looks worrisome beyond 2020.

To keep the programme aloft Airbus needs to produce about 30 A380s a year. However, even that figure may prove ambitious after the financially ailing Russian carrier Transaero Airlines said it could put off the delivery of four A380s – damaging prospects for the programme.

Last week, the Saudi Airlines chief executive said that he was weighing an order for the 550-seat aircraft as early as the Dubai Airshow. The plane could come in handy during the typically busy Haj season, he said.

Nevertheless, analysts seemed less sanguine about the prospects of the programme.

“There’s simply no hope for the A380,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president, analysis at Teal Group Corporation. “There hasn’t been for some time. It works well for Emirates, and pretty much nobody else, except in a small niche role.”

The A380 works best for Gulf airlines and a few other carriers, especially since it is expensive to operate and needs airports to be equipped with special gates for its doors on two levels.

Emirates made the A380 the backbone of its fleet, with about 65 operating currently and more than 70 on order. But questions are now being asked about whether Emirates will remain competitive without an updated A380, making it crucial for Airbus to seriously consider making the plane more fuel-efficient.

Airbus said at the Paris Airshow in June that it is considering putting new engines on the A380.

“Airbus will hold the line and keep it going,” said Addison Schonland, a founder and partner of the US-based commercial aviation consultancy AirInsight. “It may be next year before Airbus pushes ahead with the neo version – expected to be longer with new engines – so a much more capable aircraft, which will delight Emirates.”


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