Emirates eyes deal for smaller Boeing planes as virus hits demand

Dubai-based carrier keen to swap more of Boeing’s behemoth 777X jets for 787 Dreamliners

Emirates has decided on its preferred mix of new Boeing wide-body planes, with the focus likely to be on smaller aircraft rather than jumbo jets following a slump in demand amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Dubai-based carrier has been pushing to swap more of Boeing’s behemoth 777X jets – of which it has ordered 115 – for 787 Dreamliners. The composition of the intake has been finalised, chief operating officer Adel Al Redha said in an interview Thursday, declining to provide details.

Negotiations are ongoing about the timing of the plane deliveries, Al Redha said, with Emirates preferring to take the smaller Dreamliner sooner rather than later as it “offers better seat capacity” at a time when demand for international travel is flagging. Boeing wants to hand over the larger 777X first, the COO said, in line with an agreement made before the coronavirus tore up the plans of airlines around the world.

“I think Boeing would prefer to deliver the 777s before 787 because that is a new program for them,” Al Redha said. The Chicago-based planemaker declined to comment.

Emirates is particularly affected by a downturn in demand for air travel as the largest long-haul carrier in the world, typically operating more than 500 flights a day and using its Dubai hub to connect travelers from Europe and the US to Africa and Asia. Its swollen order book also includes Airbus A380 superjumbos and 50 smaller A350s, which are now the subject of separate delivery talks.

Emirates was supposed to take delivery of three A380s in June, but the carrier agreed with Airbus to delay these until later this year, the COO said. The 777X’s commercial debut was originally set for 2020 but has been postponed to 2022 as the manufacturer faces regulatory scrutiny and uncertain demand. Emirates is scheduled to take the delivery of the first of 30 787s in 2023.

“It’s a very complicated equation at this time,” Al Redha said. “We don’t want to dump capacity in the airline when the airline can’t absorb capacity.”

The discussions between Emirates and Boeing are being echoed in talks between airlines and manufacturers worldwide, as carriers are forced to reexamine expansion strategies to adapt to the post-pandemic environment.

Travel bans to contain the coronavirus all but grounded air traffic for much of the first half of the year, and government reopening plans are in the throes of disruption due to fresh restrictions to respond to new surges.

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