Airbus and Emirates edged towards a consolation deal for fewer than 20 A350-900 jets on Thursday after a public row between the carrier and engine maker Rolls-Royce over a larger model dampened the end of the Dubai Airshow.
Industry sources said the two sides were trying to secure a compromise involving a switch from the A350-1000, Airbus’ largest twin-engined jet which has fallen under the spotlight over the amount of downtime needed in harsh Gulf conditions.
None of the three companies involved agreed to comment on ongoing talks. Two sources cautioned a final signature in time for the end of the Nov. 13-17 show could not be guaranteed.
A previous stand-off involving the same three companies over the A380 superjumbo at the largest Middle East aerospace event in 2017 needed weeks of further talks before an agreement.
But a high-profile announcement matching a major Emirates order from Boeing at the start of the week was ruled out as top executives left their negotiating teams to iron out final details and attendance dwindled on the last trade day.
Emirates is by far the biggest user of the Airbus A380 after investing heavily in the world’s largest airliner, and is now planning the fleet needed to keep its Dubai super-hub at the centre of the aviation map beyond the 2030s.
The carrier opened this week’s air show with a $52 billion order for 90 more Boeing 777X airplanes, saying the U.S. planemaker appeared to be getting a grip on regulatory and other problems surrounding its arrival after five years of delays.
But Emirates Airline President Tim Clark refused to place a large order for Airbus’ broadly similar A350-1000 and publicly criticised its engine maker Rolls-Royce over extra maintenance he said would be needed to cope with hot and sandy conditions.
Rolls-Royce acknowledged its engine for the A350-1000 would need more servicing than Emirates would like, but denied Clark’s suggestion that the engine was “defective”.
A top-up order for A350-900s would be seen as a consolation prize for Airbus after Boeing won the majority of deals, but leave questions over its ability to compete with Boeing’s 777X in the busy Gulf wide-body market, delegates said.
Investors are expected to quiz Rolls-Royce about the durability and pricing of its engines at a Nov. 28 investor day.
“It is unclear to us if the (A350-900) order would be a placeholder for a future conversion into the larger -1000 variant,” Jefferies analyst Chloe Lemarie said in a note.
BOEING DOMINATES ORDERS
In a week dominated by soaring demand for wide-body planes, Boeing won new orders for 196 aircraft at the Dubai Airshow, while Airbus has so far agreed deals for 40 jets.
Airbus said it had reached an “agreement in principle” for a significant order from Turkish Airlines, but industry sources said the deal had not yet been signed.
In addition to its deal for 90 777X jets, Emirates agreed to buy five additional 787 Dreamliners. Its sister airline flyDubai ordered 30 787 Dreamliners, its first wide-body order.
Turkey-based budget carrier SunExpress opened the show with an order for 45 Boeing 737 MAX narrow-bodies.
Ethiopian Airlines announced it was buying 20 737 MAX jets nearly five years after the fatal 2019 MAX crash that led to the grounding of the global fleet. It also ordered 11 Dreamliners.
EgyptAir said it was ordering 10 A350-900s from Airbus, while AirBaltic announced it was buying 30 Airbus A220-300.
Royal Air Maroc signed a repeat order for two additional 787 Dreamliners. EgyptAir said it would lease 18 new Boeing 737 MAX jets from Air Lease Corp.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher, Alexander Cornwell and Pesha Magid; Editing by Jan Harvey)