Emirates called a last-minute press conference on the penultimate day of the Dubai Air Show on Wednesday morning where senior executives from the airline and Boeing announced they had firmed up a previous commitment to purchase 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The airline has signed a full purchase agreement for 30 Boeing 787-9 Dreamlimers which, at list value, is worth $8.8 billion.
It’s important to note that this deal is significantly different than the ‘commitment’ Emirates made with Boeing at the last Dubai Air Show in 2017. At that event, Emirates said it wanted to order 40 Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners (the longest version of the 787-family) in a deal that was valued at $15.1 billion – although, the agreement always gave Emirates the right to convert the order to the smaller but longer-range 787-9 model.
The new Boeing-made planes are expected to join the carrier’s fleet from 2023 through 2028 – one year behind the original schedule planned in 2017.
Also of note, is the news that Emirates has reduced its order for Boeing’s latest-generation 777x aircraft. Facing test and production delays, the 777X is expected to join Emirates’ fleet at some point next year, although the airline’s president Sir Tim Clark has indicated that he doesn’t want to take delivery of the plane until every minor kink has been worked out.
Emirates had originally ordered more than one hundred of the 777X but has replaced some of that number with its 787-9 order.
In comments made to media, Emirates chairman and chief executive Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum suggested the airline was reconsidering its current strategy of connecting large cities with its hub in Dubai and instead opening up smaller city pairs.
“This is an important investment and addition to our future fleet and network requirements,” Sheikh Ahmed said. He explained that the 787-9 would provide the airline with the “agility, flexibility and spread of seat segments when it comes to overall capacity to serve a range of destinations as we develop and grow our global route network.”
“The 787s will complement our fleet mix by expanding our operational flexibility in terms of capacity, range and deployment to connect new city pairs and expand frequencies,” he continued.
On Monday, Emirates announced a separate deal with European aircraft manufacturer Airbus for 50 A350-900 aircraft – again, smaller than originally planned but yet another decision that will give Emirates more flexibility and agility. The big problem, though, is what smaller capacity aircraft means for operations at Dubai’s constrained airport?
Emirates hasn’t said how the aircraft will be configured – unlike the Airbus A350 order in which the airline said it would feature a new Premium Economy product. However, Boeing said of the deal that in a typical two-class configuration, the 787-9 can fly 296 passengers – which would suggest Emirates plans to operate the plane with just Business Class and Economy Class.
Moving from operating just two aircraft types – the Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 will clearly pose some issues. Both in terms of operational planning and crew resourcing, Emirates is going to face some challenges as it expands its fleet but these issues aren’t anything new and arguably for an airline the size of Emirates, the benefits of operating multiple aircraft types far outweigh any disadvantages.