Emirates Airline president Tim Clark hopes to have “a grown-up conversation” in the coming months with Boeing over the 777X widebody to gain more visibility on the new airplane’s delivery timeframe and performance. The Dubai-based airline signed on as the launch customer for the model with an initial order for 150 announced at the Dubai Air Show in November 2013.
“We got very much involved in the design of the aircraft back in early 2010," Clark said at the World Aviation Festival virtual conference on Wednesday. "We have no visibility either on delivery or on performance at this stage of the game. The first test flight took place in July 2018 and we’re now in April 2021. These test flights must have given them evidence of what the aircraft can do. We’re looking to see it.” Clark reiterated his belief that the airline will not get its first 777X in 2023 as last scheduled and that Boeing will push back deliveries further, to 2024. Emirates originally expected to receive its first 777X in 2020.
Clark said he did not know whether the aircraft’s design or its new GE9X engines have presented problems, though he cautioned that the 777X’s certification will face more regulatory scrutiny due to the Boeing 737 Max saga. Regulators across the world will no longer use the previous “good for all” approach and will look at the aircraft and how it was built before certifying it, he noted. “Some of the [777X] systems have not met the EASA expectations and will have to be changed, I was told,” said Clark.
Once Emirates gains more visibility regarding the 777X’s delivery and performance, the airline will decide whether to convert a larger part of the order to 787s, Clark added.
He acknowledged the group might need further financial support from its sole shareholder, the government of Dubai, if demand does not recover. “If in six months global demand is where it is today, we are all going to face difficulties, not just Emirates,” Clark said. The airline anticipated late last year that the Covid-19 vaccination program would represent a “panacea for the problem, [and] that certainly by April/May we would start seeing an uptick in demand,” he explained. “Clearly that has not happened to the extent we would have wanted.” Emirates flies a fleet of 151 Boeing 777s, but they mainly carry cargo and transport only about 20,000 to 30,000 passengers a day.
Emirates and short-haul sister company Flydubai, which operates a single fleet of Boeing 737s including the Max, continue to study ways to expand their partnership, Clark confirmed. “The value of having the two airlines joined at the hip makes far more sense now than it has in the past,” he said. Flydubai would retain its brand. “The income power of both working together will be absolutely stupendous,” according to Clark. Linking the networks and fleets of the two Dubai-based and -owned airlines gives “an enormous range of tools in the toolbox,” including the Airbus A380 and A350 and Boeing 787, 777, and 737 aircraft. “I can see Dubai becoming one of the biggest international hubs in the world, beyond what it is now,” he asserted.