Emirates president Sir Tim Clark believes that the industry’s two largest aircraft, the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747, are “over” in the wake of the coronavirus disaster.
Four-engined wide-bodies have become less popular with airlines in recent years, because of their comparatively high running and fuel costs; a number of carriers had already begun to shed their superjumbos, even before the Covid-19 pandemic destroyed travel demand.
But with airlines facing an unprecedented liquidity crisis, and stripping back capacity, some have decided to retire their A380 and 747 aircraft early.
“We know the A380 is over, the 747 is over but the A350 and the 787 will always have a place”said Sir Tim Clark in an interview with The National.
Despite Emirates’ ability to operate the A380 profitably before the pandemic, Sir Tim has previously spoken of the “demise” of the A380; it is no secret that the airline has begun the process of restructuring their fleet, in favour of more fuel efficient aircraft like the A350, 787 and 777X.
But with 115 A380s in their fleet, and eight more due to be delivered, the aircraft still forms the backbone of Emirates’ operations and will continue to do so in the near-term, until they start receiving their A350s and 787s in 2023.
Referring to newer wide-bodies, like the A350 and 787, Sir Tim said: “They may not be ordered soon, they may have orders deferred and pushed back, but eventually they will come back, and they will be a better fit probably for global demand in the years post the pandemic."
“Do I see demand for these bigger aircraft slowing? Yes, I do. The numbers I would suggest will be lower in the next three to five years and I think Boeing and Airbus recognise that and are already slowing their production now."
“You can’t fly from Dubai to San Francisco in a 737 non-stop but you can on a 787 and you can on an A350 and very comfortably.”
Prior to Covid-19, airlines were generally planning on keeping the 15 year old A380 in their fleets. Qantas launched an ambitious overhaul programme, to upgrade their superjumbo fleet, and Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury said that the A380 would continue to serve places like London, where there are very few take-off and landing slots available.
One potential role for the plane to serve – albeit temporarily – is as a freighter. Lufthansa Technik has begun the first conversion of an A380 for cargo operations for an undisclosed airline.
Video of Emirates, Etihad Chief Warn Of Mass Airline Insolvencies
Demand for air travel will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023 and 85% of the world’s airlines could face insolvency by the end of 2020, without government intervention.
That is according to chiefs of Emirates and Etihad Airways; who have discussed the fate of the airline industry and how the companies are responding to Covid-19 in a video conference, hosted by the US UAE Business Council.
During the discussion, Sir Tim and Mr Douglas described what business might look like in the short and medium terms; also how they would work with the UAE government on a recovery.
Addressing government measures to ensure the well being of populations, Sir Tim said that at some point “there is a stark choice to be made” as to the preservation or reactivation of countries’ economies.
“And at some point, this has to be revitalised otherwise those countries will find that they are not able to make the payments that they have to. I think it’s very important that some kind of easing of the lock down and the movement of certain sectors of the economy are able to start moving ahead.”
Both executives also called for liberal aviation agreements, which could be important to the growth of global networks and passenger convenience.
Sir Tim said that thanks to current extremely low oil prices, Emirates is able to operate highly profitable cargo flights using their 777 freighter and passenger aircraft. Both Emirates and Etihad are also operating repatriation flights to and from the UAE.
Sir Tim Clark Retirement
Back in December 2019,Sir Tim Clark announced that he would be retiring as president of Emirates Airline in June; carrying on from then in a consultancy only role.
But when pressed on whether he would still be departing next month or stay on to shepherd Emirates through the Covid-19 crisis, he declined to say.
He told The National that his focus now is on “trying to find a way through this pretty difficult situation”.
“I have basically said I will stay for the time that it takes the management group that I am working with to get a way forward and then we’ll see after that how it goes on,”
“I am probably fairly useful still because I have the experience and my instincts; generally when we’re up against it, I tend to fall back on my instincts and very often I’m pleased to say they got us out of the hole.
“It’s not just about me, it's about the government who is the owner of Emirates. When the time is right, and I think everything is OK I will just carry on [with my plans]. We have a good team of people … they have worked with me for a long time, they know the way. It’s a difficult one because no one has been in this position ever in the airline industry today.”