Emirates has orders in for two new aircraft types – the 787-9 and the A350-900. Deliveries are set to start from 2023, allowing Emirates to open new routes and seek out smaller destinations that cannot support its larger widebodies. However, Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates, has cast doubt on the delivery timeline for the 787 Dreamliner.
Will the Dreamliners be on time?
Emirates’ large fleet of widebody only aircraft functions like a well-oiled machine. The airline lays plans for retirements, renewals and upgrades years in advance, which is why anything that disrupts this process is rather unwelcome. The 777X is one such disruption, one which the airline’s president, Sir Tim Clark, has been fairly vocal about.
Speaking at a media roundtable on the sidelines of the Dubai Airshow, Clark noted the disruption that has been caused by the late progress of the new Boeing aircraft. He said,
“Precision. Two minutes, 10 minutes late, 15 minutes late… we beat ourselves up if aircraft are late. Then one of our partners says, “sorry, it’s three years”. That turns our planning on its head.”
Although Sir Tim is clearly still sore about the delays that have interfered with his meticulous planning, he is also looking forward to two new aircraft types joining the fleet in the near future. However, he also cast some doubt onto the timing of the delivery of at least one of those types.
“We’ve got A350s coming in. We have 787 coming in. But even the 787 could be a problem. They have an enormous backlog … Add that to the ramp up that they reckon they’ll have by the end of next year, I don’t see how they could get our aircraft out in 2023.”
The issues with the 787 are well documented. At present, the deliveries are paused, and have been since the summer, while Boeing toils to rectify the identified issues. All the while, delivery deadlines loom and more orders come in, so it’s not surprising Sir Tim is slightly skeptical on the dates he has been given.
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Upgrading older aircraft
Right now, Sit Tim and his team are keenly working on rebuilding the airline’s network to pre-pandemic levels. Clark stated that they have 152 destinations to get back to, and that this is the focus of their ongoing efforts, noting that,
“It’s vital that our network is restored; our network grows again.”
To grow the network means retaining a large and flexible fleet. With uncertainty over the delivery date for the 777X and now also the 787 Dreamliner, some of the planned retirements have been put back, with older aircraft looking to stay for longer. Clark explained,
“The most critical thing is that we have to retain our fleet as large and as versatile is it has been. If that means we have to retain older aircraft for longer and upgrade them, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Emirates announced last week that it would be retrofitting its new premium economy cabin to many of its 777s and A380s, as well as introducing a new business class product for the 777. Clark explained,
“We are upgrading a lot of the old ERs, retaining some of the old ERs, and we’re looking at the phase out for the 380, which was mapped up until the mid ‘30s. Now, if we don’t get replacements coming in, then that changes it. So what the guys are doing at the moment is working the mix.”
For now, Emirates will continue to ‘work the mix’ to ensure it has the fleet size and flexibility to restore its former connections. Clark could be pleasantly surprised and have the 787s delivered on schedule in 2023. However, if the worst does happen and delays do materialize, the airline has built itself a cushion to fall back on.