Emirates Airlines President Tim Clark has publicly voiced serious concerns about production and quality control issues they face with both Airbus and The Boeing Company as aircraft programs continue to face lengthy delays.
Previously such criticism was mainly brought up by their local competitor Qatar Airways, especially in relation to Airbus but now with Emirates joining the conversation, this isn’t just a one-sided dispute anymore.
Emirates is still using the B777 as the backbone of their fleet but the focus on the two aircraft types B777 and A380 is slowly creating problems for the carrier, especially as many of their B777’s are quite “up there” in age, despite EK saying their fleet is “one the youngest in the skies”.
This week Emirates President Tim Clark spoke to Airline Ratings and boy, he didn’t hold back.
Airlineratings: Emirates fears a shortage of aircraft and crews for the time after the pandemic. What is it about?
Life extension will affect about 120 aircraft, 80 of them A380s, plus about 40 or 50 Boeing 777-300ERs. The exact numbers haven’t been fixed, it’s a moveable feast. Their life will be extended by six to ten years each. Our first A380, A6-EDA, went out of service after 13 years, but these aircraft can fly much longer as long as you support them. We had six A380s come in last year, and if you give them a 15-year life we are into the mid-2030s anyway. The other ones we are going to extend have plenty of legs in there. The A380 is designed for 19,000 cycles, and we have to persuade Airbus to extend the life to 25,000 or even 30,000 cycles. I am sure there won’t be a problem with the regulators. That allows us to get meaningful life out of them. …
Where are you with Boeing right now?
We had multiple meetings with them and we need to sort out this contract by the end of February, as it is a complete mess. We don’t want to cancel the 787s or the 777-9s, we want the airplanes. What is going to happen when the A380 goes otherwise, what am I left with? But we want the aircraft in the shape that the contract requires. The total of 30 787s in there look very marginal now as they are so far behind in production. They were supposed to come in May 2023. But it’s not going to happen, how can they deliver? Look at the huge backlog, they haven’t produced any aircraft lately, that’ll take them two or three years to go over that. They got production and quality control issues that they admit, and now after the MAX crisis with the regulator saying ‘we want to have a good look at everything, that is slowing the whole thing down. …
In Boeing we have twelve production aircraft of the 777-9 that have been produced already for us, they are in storage without their engines. But because of the certification issues and the remedial work that has to go into the FAA’s and EASA’s requirements, I don’t know where it’s going to end, I just don’t have visibility on that. So that aircraft is not due to be certified into July 2023, if they are lucky they’ll get it, if not, it will go on for another six months or a year.
Honestly, if it goes beyond 2023 and it goes on for another year, we probably cancel the program. What else can we do? We can’t continue the way we are. Boeing really needs to get their act together and get this aircraft sorted. Don’t forget – the aircraft was originally designed for delivery in April 2020, it’s now 2024 if we are lucky. You’ve now got a four-year delay with the program. If they have another year on it, we are going to question if this is fit for purpose or not, what’s the problem with it? I hope it doesn’t happen, as there is nowhere else we could go. They are building the biggest aircraft and we want it. It was done at our request back in 2010, I don’t even want to think about it not happening.
What do you think of the A350 paint issue that Airbus and Qatar Airways are fighting out?
Fact is, it is an issue. I am not unsympathetic to Qatar Airways. We made it absolutely clear in Toulouse now that, if we have the same problem on one of our aircraft, we won’t take them over. Akbar Al Baker told me, not sure if it is true, that there were aircraft that hadn’t been delivered yet, that were also showing signs of that problem. Akbar is a bit like us, he probably learned from us that we will not accept anything but perfection. That’s not unreasonable, isn’t it? Our engineers looked at these A350s and said they are not in a good shape. So we say to Toulouse: By the delivery of the A350, you will have cracked this problem, otherwise, you will face us with no deliveries either. I think Airbus is in a transitioning period of tests, clearly, they miscalculated what the UV or temperature or whatever it may be can do. They have to resolve it as quickly as possible. The 787 also has the same kind of problem, but not as bad, for example on the wings at Etihad.
When airlines are facing quality issues and production delays with both main manufacturers of passengers aircraft on the market this creates a severe problem.
Tim Clark voiced it quite well: Where else would they go? Emirates is boxed in, they are reliant on the deliveries, and the only remedy is to extend the lifetime of the existing aircraft in the fleet. Now, Emirates has excellent maintenance and that won’t be a problem but at some point it’s a question of how investing in new cabin interior is economical. If they decide against doing anything to the cabin – especially the Business Class product) then customers won’t be all too happy and possibly walk away.
Right now Emirates has 153 Boeing 777 in service and 126 of the 777X are on order:
And a vast number of A380 as well, in my opinion still the best plane in the skies today:
Tim Clark also commented on the feud between Qatar Airways and Airbus which has escalated into a high court case and a cancellation of QR’s A321 single-aisle aircraft order.
From Mr. Clark’s explanation, he has talked to Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker about this and also deployed their own engineers to look at the problem first hand. In some regards, Emirates is even pickier when it comes to excellent quality before the handover of an aircraft and as it was mentioned in the interview Tim Clark expects Airbus to have the A350 quality issues permanently fixed before they take ownership of their own A350’s.
Emirates has scheduled to operate the A350-900 XWB from 2023 but if that timeline can still be held is anyone’s guess at this point. At some time Emirates even considered trying to pull deliveries forward due to the Boeing 77X delays but now with the Airbus quality issues surrounding Qatar Airways… it’s a mess!
Emirates is facing a dilemma with Boeing’s (lack of) progress with the B777-900 program which was started 12 years ago on the behest of the Dubai-based carrier. The program is already two years behind schedule and Emirates President Tim Clark expects another 1-2 years delay. If it’s any more he would even consider walking away from the B777-900 based on the airline’s requirements at that time.
Question is: Then what? As Clark admitted himself, he needs these aircraft and even though the lifetime of current planes can be extended without a problem as long as they’re well maintained. But that doesn’t solve the problem of the cabin interior which requires a complete overhaul in Business Class and that some point in time new planes need to be supplied either way. Is there really an alternative to waiting for the B777-900? Most likely not because what other aircraft of that size is supposed to fill the gap? The A350 ain’t going to cut it.