Emirates Orders Additional 50 Airbus A380s to Expand Fleet

Emirates, the world’s largest international airline, said it will purchase an additional 50 Airbus SAS A380 superjumbos, the biggest single deal for the largest commercial jetliner.

The order, valued at about $20 billion at list price, was signed today as the Dubai Air Show. The aircraft will serve both a replacement and growth purpose, Emirates said.

The transaction is a record for the A380, which was at risk of ending 2013 without a deal. Instead, Airbus can now make the year the most successful for its superjumbo should leasing company Doric firm up its plan to buy 20 units, which it announced in June. Emirates is already the biggest customer for the Airbus flagship with orders for 90 jets and had taken delivery of 38 by the end of October.

The boost comes after Airbus Chief Financial Officer Harald Wilhelm said Nov. 14 that the Toulouse, France-based company may need to examine whether to reduce A380 output, with unsold production slots as early as 2015.

Emirates was also the buyer of the prior record purchase, committing to taking 32 jets at the Berlin Air Show in 2010. With the additional purchase, the Middle Eastern carrier would have signed for more than 50 percent of all A380s sold. Customers typically get discounts to list prices.

The planemaker was bracing for a third straight year in which it failed to meet order targets after Deutsche Lufthansa AG canceled a commitment to take three aircraft in September. Airbus had a backlog of 144 planes at the end of last month.

Airbus is reversing a string of A380 setbacks after Air France-KLM Group, Europe’s largest carrier, followed Lufthansa’s cancellations by saying it may drop two superjumbos for smaller planes. Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. has said it can’t be sure to take any of its six A380s on order, while Japan’s Skymark Airlines Inc. said this month it still needs financing for the planes it wants.

Boeing Co. has also struggled to book sales for its rival 747-8, and has twice reduced output for the plane this year. Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Ray Conner told reporters in Dubai he sees signs the market may start rebounding next year to allow build rates to rise from 1.5 units a month now.

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