Feb. 4, 2015: In a pitch designed to save the Boeing 747-8 and simultaneously kill the prospect of an Airbus A380neo, Emirates Airlines has received a pitch for 100 of the slow-selling Boeing, two sources familiar with the situation tell Leeham News and Comment (LNC). This is isn’t yet a formal proposal, as far as we know.
Tim Clark, president of Emirates, said he would buy 100 A380s if Airbus re-engined and launched the neo. The neo would use the new Rolls-Royce Advance engine, according to two different sources. Neither Pratt & Whitney nor GE Aviation, which dominate the current A380 engine market share with its joint venture Engine Alliance GP7200, are interested in developing a new engine for the prospective A380neo, according to public statements by both companies. PW doesn’t offer an engine alone that could be adapted to the size required for the A380neo. GE’s GEnx engine, used on the Boeing 787, is in the thrust and size bracket but would only improve the efficiency with 4-5%, thus not worth the change effort. The smaller version of the GEnx is on the 747-8.
Killing the A380neo would also delay Rolls-Royce’s next generation of engines and help retain GE’s dominance in the large engine market. Pratt & Whitney’s parent, United Technologies, has already said it won’t develop a large engine version of the Geared Turbo Fan any time in the foreseeable future.
According to our two sources, talks with Emirates are not with Clark but with the chairman of the airline, Sheik Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
The 747-8 is hanging on by a thread. The backlog is thin, with production gaps this year and next and then almost non-existent in 2017, according to the Ascend data base. Boeing could offer the airplane long before Airbus and RR could offer an A380neo which would be about 2020-21. But the proposal to provide 747-8s includes improved GEnx engines to lower fuel consumption. While Emirates’ Clark, the president, says he wants a 10% reduction in fuel consumption in an A380neo compared with the A380ceo, just how much a GEnx-powered 747-8 with Performance Improvement Packages to the engines and airframe would gain is unclear. Two sources told us that Boeing continues to work on PIPs under the code name Project Ozark, a long-standing program to improve the 747-8’s fuel efficiency. Boeing confirmed to us last October that PIPs were underway, though it didn’t specifically tie them to Project Ozark.
From Emirates’ perspective, the smaller 747-8i doesn’t fit well with its business plan built principally around the A380, and this is one reason why Clark has consistently refused to order the airplane. Emirates was the launch customer of the Boeing 777-8 and 777-9, firming up an order last year for 150 airplanes; the order was announced at the 2013 Dubai Air Show. The larger 777-9 nominally seats 407 passengers in three classes. Boeing claims the 747-8i seats 467 passengers in three classes, but when LNC configures the 747-8 with our normalized 3 class cabin, the capacity is 405 passengers versus the 777-9’s 368. That would mean Emirates would gain a capacity step in their fleet of around 40 passengers as the 747-8 and 777-9 have similar range. The A380 seats 569 passengers with the same normalized 3 class cabin.
How the proposed addition of the 747-8 would fit into a fleet comprised of today’s A380, the 777-300ER and 777-8/9 remains unclear.
Although our sources didn’t mention it, we would not be surprised if the 747-8 proposal to Emirates could be included in a Boeing proposal for the 787-9 and 787-10 when Clark holds a bake-off between the Airbus A350-900/1000 and the twin-engined Boeing’s for their medium haul needs later this year.
By Scott Hamilton, with additions by Bjorn Fehrm.