Emirates President Tim Clark believes that Rolls-Royce is the most likely provider of a new powerplant for a potential reengined Airbus A380. “I’m not sure GE or Pratt have an appetite,” Clark told journalists on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) annual general meeting in Doha, Qatar. From his talks with Rolls-Royce and Airbus, Clark is concluding that Rolls-Royce is nearest to believing sufficient orders for an A380neo could materialize to make the business case work.

Emirates has been the main force behind the drive to reengine the aircraft. Clark believes a combination of engine and aerodynamic improvements plus more seats in the cabin could lead to a 10-12% improvement in economic efficiency of the aircraft. Talks are ongoing and no decision has been taken to launch the aircraft.

However, Emirates has walked away from the idea of installing an 11-abreast economy cabin on the main deck – compared to 10 abreast today. The airline and Airbus have been studying the concept, but Clark argues that in the 11-abreast configuration an uncomfortable middle seat would have been created. With its by far largest customer now opting out of the 11-abreast plan, Airbus will have to look for other ways to make the aircraft more efficient.

The new engine for the aircraft would likely only become available after the turn of the decade. Emirates is hoping that it can convert 25 aircraft in the latest order batch to the A380neo version. The airline last year placed an order for another 50 of the aircraft and now holds commitments for a total of 140. It currently operates 48 aircraft and plans to take two more in the coming weeks. The first 25 of the additional 50 are to arrive in 2016 and 2017 so they will still have to be the current version of the aircraft. But the second batch is arriving past 2020.

According to Clark, Emirates would not consider cancelling the order if Airbus decided not to reengine the A380 because it would still need the additional lift and the A380 is still profitable anyway. “But it would be even more profitable with new engines,” Clark said.

The A380 remains “hugely popular” with passengers even six years after entry into service with Emirates, Clark pointed out. “When you fill the A380, it makes you good money.” However, he has noticed executive management at other airlines being risk averse. One problem the airline has been running into is baggage capacity. “When you go above 517 passengers, you have to load around 1,000 bags and then there is no space for cargo left,” Clark said. That is a particular problem on some of the long haul routes into the U.S. where many of the passengers check the full allowance of two bags and less so on the shorter European and Asian flights.

The airline currently has a fleet of 220 aircraft growing to 260 over the next 1-2 years. While Emirates has been growing by 16-17% annually for years and therefore has been keeping aircraft in the fleet longer than it originally wanted, the least efficient are now on the way out. The carrier still operates ten A340-500s, but all of them will leave the fleet by March of 2015. “It is a nice aircraft but with fuel at $100 there is nothing you can do,” Clark said. “It is worse than a (Boeing 747) SP.”