Emirates Presses Boeing on 777X Performance as Record Deal Looms

Emirates President Tim Clark is pushing Boeing Co. to ensure its newest twin-aisle aircraft meets the airline’s demands as it readies an order that stands to be the biggest in aviation history.

The carrier is still haggling with Boeing over the specifications for the 777X as well as with engine manufacturer General Electric Co. on issues including extra thrust to take off in hot climates, Clark said. The executive said he needs new wide-body aircraft to replace Emirates’ current 777 fleet, which will number 170 jets by the end of this month.

“You’re looking at high numbers,” Clark said in an interview yesterday at the Arab Air Carriers Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar. “That’s why it’s so important to us even at this very late stage that we get it absolutely right.”

Emirates, the biggest operator of the 777 and the Airbus SAS A380 superjumbo, is wielding its clout and urging the manufacturers to tailor their wide-body aircraft to the airline’s requirements. Clark said Boeing is “not quite there yet” and still has “work to do” on the 777X before he commits to unveil a deal as early as the Dubai Air Show in 10 days.

Airlines are keen to assure a new aircraft’s specifications meet their demands even before the first metal is cut as the models typically remain in their fleets for more than a decade once they enter service. Clark said he is making a commitment for airliners that will take him “right up to 2030” as he plots his next generation of long-haul jets.

Major Purchase

Clark has been pressing Boeing publicly for more than two years to move forward with a successor to the 777-300ER that would offer greater capacity. The executive declined to specify the size of a contract he may sign in Dubai, a bi-annual aviation show that’s grown as the Middle Eastern airlines expand their role in world travel.

At the last air show two years ago, Clark ordered 50 777-300ERs, and at the previous expo he ordered 70 Airbus A350s. Doug Alder, a Boeing spokesman, declined to comment on customer conversations.

While Emirates is likely to dominate the first days of the show, other carriers are also looking to place orders. Boeing is in talks with Qatar Airways Ltd., Etihad Airways and Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. about 777X orders worth as much as $87 billion including the Emirates requirement, people familiar with the matter said previously.

Possible Alternatives

The Emirates president reiterated he would like more A380 superjumbos, beyond the 90 he’s ordered so far, though is constrained by limited space at the current Dubai airport.

“We know where we want to be with the fleet, we know what the numbers need to be,” he said.

While Boeing’s updated 777 is the most keenly awaited wide-body program of recent years, given the success of the current model, the Chicago-based company is not alone in chasing major orders. Airbus is marketing its largest A350 variant as an alternative, and the plane -- called the A350-1000 -- is set to enter service three years before the 777X, which Clark sees debuting in 2020 at the earliest.

“There are other airplanes in the frame,” Clark said. “They’re improving the Airbus A350-1000.”

Emirates already has 70 A350s on order, 10 of them the A350-1000 variant. Clark had said publicly that he wasn’t yet satisfied with the performance promised on the A350, joining executives including Akbar Al Baker, the chief executive officer of Qatar Airways Ltd. and the first A350 customer.

Desert Heat

Boeing is giving its 777 a radical makeover, designing a plane that will boast the biggest engines ever and a record wingspan. Its first variant, the 777-9X, will be able to fly as far as 8,000 nautical miles (14,800 kilometers) with more than 400 passengers, while burning 20 percent less fuel than the current 777. A second type, carrying 350, will push past 9,400 nautical miles, enough to go nonstop from New York to Singapore.

Airbus’s A350, powered only by Rolls-Royce Plc engines, performed its maiden flight this year and the first variant is set to enter service in 2014. Airbus said the A350-1000 model will offer 25 percent better operating economics than Boeing’s 777-300ER, and the Toulouse, France-based company has said it might stretch the A350 even beyond the -1000 if airlines show sufficient interest.

Clark said General Electric has dropped a water injection system for the 777X engine that Emirates would have found useful in desert-heat conditions. Instead, the manufacturer will need to make changes to the maximum thrust coming from the engines to help the plane take off in hot air, which is less dense than colder air and therefore provides less lift.

A spokesman at GE said the company continues to evaluate a water-injection system, and that the engine’s entry into service is several years away.

“The adjustments to the thrust that have to compensate for the lack of water injection and cooling elements have got to be dealt with,” Clark said. “And they are being dealt with.”


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