An Emirates A380: Does it distort the market, or drive it to new heights?

Emirates’ powers of persuasion were apparent at a number of levels in yesterday’s high stakes switch to Rolls-Royce as the engine maker for 50 already ordered Airbus A380s.

As the largest user of the giant Airbus (and current and future versions of the Boeing 777) the Dubai based carrier wants a new engine option or NEO version of its flagship in the next decade, and Rolls-Royce is the keen (and only) contender for such an engine.

Rolls-Royce has already been test flying Trent 1000 ALPS (Advanced Low Pressure System technology) engine on the wing of a Boeing 747,  which is the candidate to power 2020s versions of the A380, and quite possibly much speculated upon new additions to the Airbus A350 family of big twin engined wide body airliners.

This engine is obviously crucial to Rolls-Royce’s strategy for the next decade, as well as essential for Emirate’s ambitions for the A380, of which it has 59 in service as of today and another 81 on firm order.

According to tweets from the announcement that 50 of those remaining orders would take Rolls-Royce rather than US Engine Alliance power plants, Emirate’s president and CEO Tim Clark said he was very, very happy with the current version of the A380, but would be ecstatically happy if in the next decade it could improve on its cost efficiency by 10-13 percent.

Which coincidentally is about what Boeing is promising with its advanced X series 777s, for which Emirates is the benevolent launch customer, in the same period.

At Airbus the signs of this happening appear on balance to be good, but at a time of its choosing, and only after further enhancements are made to the current model, which was last incrementally improved late in 2013, allowing the 575 tonne version of the A380 to replace 777s on the very long services between Dubai and Los Angeles.

There is apparently, quite a lot Airbus can do to the current version with upgraded current engines and the uplift of fuel more fuel in an already designed space in the current wing that has not so far been activated for that purpose.

Which should also cause ecstasy in Emirates, although Airbus is keen on spreading the buyer base for A380s among more carriers. Such incremental improvements between now and the arrival of an A380 NEO, which would also have other airframe enhancements, would also no doubt cause enthusiasm in the Engine Alliance, (comprising the otherwise rivals GE and Pratt & Whitney) as their A380 power plant has also been highy successful in operation and has a designed capability to be uprated. To a degree.

In the meantime, however long that might prove, Emirates has given Rolls-Royce a hugely valuable boost to its current order book that will help it run as smoothly as its famous automobile counterpart does as it pursues its investment in leaner, cleaner and greener engine designs for the future.

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