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Feb 14, 2017

Emirates chief eyes smaller jets for Dubai's giant new airport

Emirates gives a glimpse of how it might change once it breaks free of the confines of Dubai's present airport

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We can’t show you a competing 737 MAX 10 graphic because Boeing hasn’t quite got it together yet

Emirates president Tim Clark has sent the clearest of signals to his competitors that fare discounting has dropped to mutually destructive levels while causing even more excitement by talking up a possible purchase of singe aisle jets.

His comments about future fleet decisions were linked to the opportunities that would arise when Emirates moves (not a day too soon) from its current congested hub at Dubai to a vast new airport and related industrial and logistics hub at Dubai World Central, which is about a quarter of the way to the neighboring UAE city of Abu Dhabi, home of Etihad Airways.

DWC is operating now mainly for single aisle jets but the big switch is slated for the coming decade. In the CNN story Clark says  the new airport could offer the gates and runways needed to add an obviously substantial number of smaller cities to Emirates’ route map.

That comment needn’t necessarily mean, as some analysts have suggested, that Emirates is looking at absorbing the single aisle 737 operations of Fly Dubai, which has the same sovereign ownership as the Emirates juggernaut, but a separate management. Fly Dubai makes a significant contribution to congestion at Dubai’s current airport today.

It could also instead mean that Emirates, which will be putting more than 300 A380 and 777 rotations through DWC a day once the move is made, might seize the chance to expand the connections it currently has for these large jets to longer haul markets that are largely addressed, even today, by aging Boeing 757s, configured for around 200-250 seats in one or two class layouts.

Boeing has identified a need for a Middle of the Market or MoM single aisle jet to replace the 757s, now out of production for more than 11 years, and extend its scope somewhat further in terms of range. It has also identified a pressing need to do something about the Airbus A321 NEO  (and an LR version), which has invaded much of the territory occupied by the 757s, as well as throttling back sales of its currently largest version of the 737 MAX family, the -9.

Thus Clark’s comments could presage a contest between Airbus and Boeing for the longest ranged and largest sized single aisled A321s or 737s that both can offer today. It would mean Emirates might field such a jet for flights to Shenzhen to relieve to some extent the pressure on its large wide-bodied airliners serving Hong Kong, or to Bratislava if the Austrian authorities never allow it more than one or two A380s a day to closely adjacent Vienna.

There are dozens of potential routes for the 4000 nautical miles range or more being touted for jets like an MoM (which might be a quasi or mini wide body design) as well as the more straightforward course of developing the high capacity end of the A320 NEO and 737 MAX lines.

Or maybe Emirates is really focused on taking Fly Dubai. Clark isn’t going to reveal its future strategy in any detail to the media before it is all stitched up with the owners. His messaging in the CNN interview to other airline executives was primarily about the perils of mutual destruction in deep fare discounting.

Emirates looks like reporting a pretty flat full year to 31 March, and will be far from alone in terms of the financial performances of other large carriers.

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