A series of blockbuster orders placed yesterday underlined Dubai’s status as capital of the commercial aircraft megadeal, chief among them being an order for 150 Boeing 777X aircraft placed by Emirates (termed a “commitment”)–effectively launching the new larger variant of the popular long-range twinjet. Emirates’s 777X order, which consists of 115 -9Xs and 35 -8Xs, was not entirely unexpected as the carrier played a leading role in defining the aircraft, but yesterday marked the largest product launch in commercial airline history (by dollar value) for any OEM.
Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad meanwhile ordered 25 777Xs and 30 787-10s and, shortly afterwards, Airbus joined the throng via a deal with Emirates for another 50 A380s–taking the local airline’s total A380 order tally to 140–plus an Etihad order for 50 A350s.
Both Etihad and Emirates also placed orders for narrowbody aircraft with the big two OEMs–Emirates subsidiary FlyDubai ordering 111 737 NG/MAX aircraft and Etihad signing up for 36 A320neos, while Qatar signed a letter-of intent for 50 777Xs and ordered five Airbus A330 freighters (plus eight options).
Etihad’s Boeing commitments included firm orders for 56 airplanes in all, including 17 777-9Xs, eight 777-8Xs, 30 787 Dreamliners and a single 777-200 freighter. With Airbus, its order breakdown includes 40 A350-900s, ten A350-1000s, as well as one A330-200F, 26 A321neos and 10 A320neos. Its current fleet consists of 23 A320 family aircraft, 25 A330s and 11 A340s.
Qatar’s commitment came in the form of a letter of intent for 50 777-9Xs, while it also firmed up a long-anticipated order for 13 A330-200F freighters (five firm plus eight options).
Appearing alongside Emirates chairman HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum during the Boeing press conference, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker talked of charting a new course for his airline with the 777X deal. “I have been asked so many times in the past year had I thought about the Boeing 777X and whether Qatar Airways is interested in buying it. Of course, I always said no, but here we are,” Al Baker joked. “By standing here today the answer is clear, indeed we are.”
Emirates, which already operates the world’s largest fleet of 777s, expects to begin taking deliveries of the 777X in 2020. “Air transport is a key enabler of world trade, and we see that demand for aviation services will continue to grow globally,” said Sheikh Ahmed. “What we’re announcing today is a continuation of our commitment and vision to connect the world through our efficient hub in the Middle East. Emirates’s aircraft orders today, with deliveries of the 777X starting in 2020, will take us to 2025 and beyond–replacing aircraft due for retirement and providing the foundation for our future growth.”
The A380 order portends still more possibilities for Emirates’s long-haul network. Now operating one out of every three A380s flying today, it has already placed into service 39 of the double-deck transports. In signing a $23 billion (at list prices) order for another 50 of the superjumbos, it could further strengthen the power of its Dubai hub.
“After five years in service, the aircraft remains extremely popular with our customers,” said Sheikh Ahmed, who added that he does not expect other nations will limit access or landing rights for the fast-growing carrier. “The A380 is the aircraft that defines the Emirates experience,” said Fabrice Bregier, Airbus president and CEO. “With this order, the A380 will be at the heart of Emirates’s future.”
Emirates expects delivery of half of the new batch of A380s before the first quarter of 2018. Appearing with Sheikh Ahmed, Emirates president Tim Clark said the carrier would consider 11-abreast seating for the new airplanes, but that seat width would not “fall below” 18 inches, which Airbus wants to make an industry standard. “I think that’s doable,” Clark said.
As if to underscore the gravity of the Boeing and Airbus orders, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and UAE vice president, attended the signing ceremonies, accompanied by his son, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Dubai’s Crown Prince, and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, minister of presidential affairs and a brother of UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
FlyDubai Weighs in With its Own Mega-order
Emirates Airline’s low-fare subsidiary FlyDubai will play a large role in Emirates’s growth. Following the bumper 777X announcements, Emirates chairman Sheikh Ahmed also presided over an announcement of an order for 111 Boeing narrowbodies, consisting of 100 of the new 737 MAX and 11 737-800NGs worth $11.4 billion.
“This new aircraft will extend FlyDubai’s ability to connect new and diversified markets,” said Sheik Ahmed. “Both Emirates’ and FlyDubai’s orders will support hundreds of thousands of jobs in aviation for the next decade and more.”
On network plans for the new aircraft, Sheikh Ahmed issued a clear expression of his ambitions. “If you draw a circle [with Dubai at the center], with the aircraft’s five-hour range, you will see the possibilities,” he said.