The Airbus A380 program has received a major boost, after Emirates announced an order for 50 aircraft on the opening day of the Dubai Airshow.

The order takes Emirates’ total commitment to the A380 program to 140 firm orders, making it by far the largest customer. Emirates now holds almost half of the total order book for the type and more than half of the backlog. The carrier has placed four previous orders for a total of 90 aircraft, of which 39 have been delivered. The latest Emirates A380 deal takes the total orderbook to 309 aircraft. There have been 115 delivered as of the end of October.

Emirates has been looking at ordering more A380s for a significant time, but has made that dependent on whether or not it will be able to find space for the aircraft at its Dubai hub. With the more rapid expansion of the second airport, Dubai World Central, it appears that question has now been satisfactorily answered.

Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier said in Dubai that the order will help to fill open production slots, although not all the details including delivery timing have been sorted out. Airbus has been trying for some time to fill “a handful” of 2015 production slots. Around 25 aircraft are to be delivered this year and the rate is supposed to be ramped up to 30 annually in order to achieve operational break-even by 2015. That guidance does not take into account the multi-billion production costs for the program.

“The A380 is now a normal serial program,” Bregier says. “We will adjust production to demand.” The target is 30 or more aircraft per year, but he stresses that going a little below that target is no major issue.

Emirates Chairman Sheikh Ahmad bin Rashid Al Makhtoum says part of the order is for replacement of the airline’s existing A380 fleet and part for growth. Emirates plans to retire its early A380s from around 2020.

The airline is also looking at an 11-abreast seating configuration in economy, with a 3-5-3 arrangement on the main deck. Emirates Airline President Tim Clark says no decision has been made yet, although he signals that it is likely to come. “I am sure Airbus is going to persuade us to do it,” he says. Clark wants to make sure that seats remain at least 18 in. wide and indicates a lot of planning work is going into how that new lay-out could be fitted into the existing cabin. Going to 11 abreast would increase the number of economy seats by up to 40. The carrier has put the A380 first and business class cabins on the upper deck.

Emirates could also retrofit its existing A380 fleet with the new, denser economy cabin, but Clark says “that may not be necessary.”