Feb. 4, 2019, © Leeham News: There is more to Emirates Airline’s renewed its interest in the Airbus A350 and the potential swap-out of Airbus A380 orders than meets the eye.
The Airfinance Journal Dublin conference is worth attending for the program, but the real news is often generated on the sidelines. This is where I picked up noise about the Emirates interest in swapping the A350 for the A380.
The renewed interest, and growing disaffection with the A380 (over the engine issues) was part of it.
But Emirates’ interest in the A350 stems more from a realization the Boeing 787-10 won’t do the job the airline wants, according to the sideline conversation at the conference.
The long and the short of it is, the 787’s engines are too small for the very hot environment centered in Dubai.
As the 787 weight grew during development, the engines were pushed higher in thrust to keep takeoff performance in check. You stretch engines in thrust by injecting more fuel, called throttle push. As a result, they run hotter and the margins for hot takeoffs reduce.
The 787 engines need major modifications to improve the 787-10 takeoff performance in Dubai should it not be good enough.
The somewhat larger A350-1000 has 97,000 lbf thrust engines. The A350-900, which is slightly smaller than the 787-10, has 84,200 lbf thrust engines.
It’s worth noting that Emirates’ order for the 787-10 still has not been posted on Boeing’s website, 15 months after the deal was announced.
There are conflicting reports whether Emirates is pursuing an A380 swap for the A330neo or the A350. In Dublin, I was told the swap is for the A350.
Airbus is reducing the production rate for the A330neo from six to 4.5/mo to 3/5mo, according to market sources. The 4/5/mo rate is good through only the middle of this year when it goes down to 3.5/mo. This does not preclude an EK switch to the A330neo, since the 787-10 deliveries don’t start until the 2020s. The A330neo rate could easily come back up, or EK would fill in production A330neo slots during the same period.
The A350 rate, now at 10/mo, is going up to 13/mo. This could give EK early slots. as could some cancellations.
The A380 delivery positions are scattered throughout the 2020 decade.
Boeing was right when it decided in 2000, when the A380 program was launched, to pursue airplanes that fragment the market.
Then, the 777-200ER was the leading market fragmentation airplane. The Boeing 767-300ER and the A330-200 also were in service by this time.
In short order, the 777-300ER followed (2004), the 787 was launched (December 2003), the A350 was launched (2004 and re-launched in 2006), the A330ceo’s range was dramatically extended, the 777X was launched (2013) and the A330neo program was launched (2014).
The 737 MAX and A321neos, with trans-Atlantic range, followed to further fragment the market.
The fundamentals for the A380 changed between 2000 and 2011 with the development of all these market-fragmenting airplanes. (This is also why I think Boeing is going to find tougher sledding for the 777-9 than it counted on.)
Emirates originally selected the Engine Alliance GP7200 for its A380 fleet.
When it came to a re-order of 20+17 in 2017, EK said it would switch to the Rolls-Royce Trent 900.
Engine Alliance didn’t want to undertake the Performance Improvements EK wanted, according to observers at the time.
Since then, the behind-the-scenes talk is that EK president Tim Clark hasn’t been happy with RR’s plans, or actions, to improve the T900.
Clark also has been an advocate to upgrade the A380 with new engines. Airbus has a plan, but won’t do so without sufficient orders.
EK’s interest alone is insufficient.
LNA concluded more than a year ago that the A380 without a neo package is doomed.
The Boeing 747 upgraded its engines from the original Pratt & Whitney JT9Ds to PW 4000s, RR RB211 and GE CF6s in the -200/300/400 models. The 747-8 installed GEnx engines from the 787 program.
The Boeing 777-9 has the same seat-mile costs as the larger A380 and better trip costs. Even Airbus’ own A350-1000 has better economics.
Just as the time finally came to end the 787-8 passenger program (though, technically, it still can be ordered), the time has come for Airbus to end the A380.
Its resources should be put to better use. Its day has passed.