Grabbing the front page at Farnborough

After a global splurge on aircraft in 2013, few expect similar fireworks at the forthcoming Farnborough Airshow.

Last year Airbus and Boeing racked up almost 1,000 orders at the Paris Air Show alone, but the headlines this year are likely to be dominated by progress reports on new aircraft and engine types, as well as individual orders.

Of particular interest are the repercussions from Emirates’ recent cancellation of 70 A350s. Will the Dubai-based carrier order a rival model at Farnborough, and will another airline nip in to grab its vacated A350 slots, which were to see Airbus deliver the aircraft from 2019?

“This is potentially a good opportunity for other carriers who can take advantage of the production spaces to get earlier delivery of their own A350 orders,” commented John Grant, EVP of aviation intelligence provider (and MRO Network parent) OAG.

OAG data provide some clues to the shape of any replacement Emirates order. Despite taking its A380 fleet to 48, 88 per cent of the airline’s routes are still less than 4,000 miles, with the average length being 2,463 miles. That is roughly one-third of what Emirates’ cancelled A350s are capable of and four times less than what the A380 can achieve.

The 777-300ER, the mainstay of Emirates’ fleet, can manage 7,880 miles.

Of course there is little point in stretching an aircraft’s legs without appropriate passenger demand, and Emirates justifies its relatively short A380 hops between Europe and the Middle East by pointing to slot constraints at busy hubs such as Heathrow.

If Emirates does start pushing A380s onto longer, thinner routes – perhaps to South American destinations – it will need to be sure of the operating economics. Accordingly, CEO Tim Clark, has been pushing for a re-engined model, the so-called A380neo, that could provide a nine per cent efficiency gain.

Grant feels that Emirates “is well-placed with current aircraft in its fleet and those on order, to move into new growth markets as they emerge”.

“These may be long-haul or shorter routes where Emirates’ hub operations can drive the traffic density required to make the most of the widebody fleet,” he added.

So, looking ahead to Farnborough, a unit-for-unit replacement for the discarded A350s appears unlikely. John Leahy and Tim Clark jointly announcing the A380neo, on the other hand, could be an outside bet.

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