Airlines Look At Major Widebody Acquisitions

By Jens Flottau, Adrian Schofield
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Clark expects Boeing to receive “a few hundred firm orders” for its proposed 777-8X/9X soon. “All the 777 operators are interested in the 777X,” he says. Boeing is offering the aircraft to customers and is widely expected to formally launch the program later this year. Clark hints that he originally talked to Boeing about receiving the first -9X around 2018, but that target has now shifted by around 18 months to 2020 or beyond. Boeing plans to follow the -9X, a stretched version of the current 777-300ER, with the -8X, which would be the same size as the current version.

Clark says the shift, about which Emirates is not happy, is due to 787-10X development work. Boeing now has an initial provisional order for the -10X from Singapore Airlines.

Emirates has long made clear it is keen to put the 777X to use as soon as possible on some of the longest routes in its network. “The 777-8X can fly Sydney-Rome,” says Clark. “That's a 20-hour flight.”

By contrast, Clark sees the A350-1000 as an aircraft for 10-12-hr. routes. “It does not have the legs of the 777X,” he says. Emirates' agreement for 20 A350-1000s reportedly allows it to walk away from those orders after the aircraft's redesign and what now looks like an 18-month shift of entry into service until 2017.

Boeing has also targeted Qatar Airways as a potential 777X customer. CEO Akbar Al Baker says, however, that he does not expect to be ready to place a firm order for the aircraft as soon as the Paris air show next week.

Some of the new widebody aircraft types may feature in Etihad Airways' next fleet moves. The airline is talking to aircraft manufacturers about a major joint order that would address its own long-term fleet plans as well as those of some airlines it partly owns.

Etihad is in the early stages of issuing a request for proposals, CEO James Hogan says. He would not be specific about the type or number of aircraft the airline is seeking, but he says they would be for delivery from about 2020. Such a timeline would align with Etihad's aircraft retirement schedule, and would help form the next phase of its fleet plan for the 20 years through 2040.

Hogan says Etihad regards this as a group deal that would also include Air Berlin, Jet Airways and Air Seychelles, all partner carriers in which Etihad has ownership stakes. There will be “full transparency” with two other strategic partners—Aer Lingus and Virgin Australia—and they will be able to join the deal if they wish, Hogan says.

Meanwhile, Etihad's more immediate fleet-growth plans are well underway. The airline expects to take delivery of its first Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 in the last quarter of 2014. The 10 A380s it has on order “are probably enough for us” at this stage, Hogan says.

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