The expansion of Emirates' non-Dubai network comes as the airline is battling with increased limitations at its Dubai International Airport hub. Earlier predictions saw the airport reaching 90 million passengers in 2020, but with the UAE economy and Emirates' growth beginning to rebound more quickly than anticipated following the 2008 financial downturn, the airport is now expected to reach that number by the end of 2016, four years earlier than predicted.
According to Clark, market demand is not as much of a limiting factor for Emirates' growth at its home base as are the hub's physical constraints. General aviation operations and some cargo flying, including Emirates' own, are moving to the new Djebel Ali airport and some low-cost carriers, such as Wizzair, are using the new field, taking some pressure off Dubai. Clark anticipates that some of the Indian airlines that do not depend on connections in Dubai might be willing to move as well.
On the other hand, it is not only Emirates' own growth (18% more traffic in April) that is adding to the complexity of operations at the airport, low-fare airline FlyDubai is also requesting more slots.
Another issue affecting growth in the next 18 months is the A380 wing rib-feet repairs. Emirates has just entered the cycle of permanent repairs for the in-service fleet, and currently has two aircraft grounded with three more soon to follow. Clark says Airbus has been late starting the program because the selected MRO providers were not ready. Also, he has noticed that the A380 delivery stream “has slowed down” and some aircraft are several weeks late.
Airbus has been reducing the pace of production and plans to deliver only 25 A380s this year to allow for the wing-related changes to be implemented.
Clark hopes that the wing repairs will take only 40-45 days, as opposed to the 56 that have been predicted. The repair program is slated to be completed by the end of November 2014.
In spite of the disruptions, Clark remains bullish about the capabilities of the aircraft: “[The A380's] profitability is astounding. People go out of their way to fly it.”