Airbus’s most important customer for the A380 superjumbo is demanding the manufacturer decide this month on the case for relaunching the passenger jet, which has already cost billions of euros in a fraught, decade-long journey from drawing board to runway.
Sir Tim Clark, president of fast-growing Emirates Airline, which is the biggest A380 operator, said he had given Airbus a deadline to respond to his demand for a new, more fuel-efficient engine on the world’s largest jet seating more than 500 passengers.
“We met in January in Toulouse. I said I want a decision by the middle of March,” he told the Financial Times in an interview. “They agreed that they would probably have some kind of business plan in March, and that they would take this to their supervisory board.”
Rainer Ohler, spokesman for Airbus, said the Toulouse-based aerospace company would not comment on promises made to Sir Tim. “However, any decision at Airbus group will only be taken when the time is right and all questions answered,” he added. “We are in touch on this subject with all interested parties.”
The future of the A380 is central to Sir Tim’s plans to expand the Gulf carrier, which since its launch in 1985 has grown to become the world’s largest international airline by seating capacity.
With the A380 as the flagship aircraft in its fleet, Emirates has been able to increase market share by ferrying large numbers of passengers and cargo through its Dubai hub to 148 destinations around the world.
Yet the engine designed in the late 1990s for the A380 has been overtaken by a new generation and Sir Tim wants the big fuel savings the latest technology can deliver for the 81 superjumbos he has yet to receive out of a total 140 ordered.
“If you do the right thing with it you can probably bring down your cost by as much as 10 to 13 per cent,” he said.
Yet Airbus management is reluctant to pour more money into an aircraft that has struggled to find new customers, having only this year begun to cover current production costs. In December Harald Wilhelm, the group’s finance director, reflected a view that is believed to be held by some members of the board when he suggested that the A380 programme could be scrapped without new orders.
That would not only be a huge embarrassment for Airbus but could severely constrain Sir Tim’s expansion plans which rely on having a fleet of supersized jets each capable of carrying more than 500 passengers to destinations where airport capacity is often squeezed.
But the Emirates president has other ways to meet his goal of carrying 70m passengers to 180 destinations by 2020, up from 44.5m last year.
After years of insisting Emirates could grow on its own, Sir Tim is now open to the possibilities of commercial alliances.
“Part of the organic growth is to establish commercial relationships on a bilateral basis with other carriers or even entities,” he said.