Emirates Airline signed a firm order for 50 Airbus A350s at the Dubai Airshow in what is the first step of several to transform its aircraft commitments and fleet plans.

The order supersedes a memorandum of understanding the airline signed with the manufacturer earlier this year that saw it taking 40 A330neos and just 30 A350s. The preliminary deal came on the heels of Airbus’ decision to terminate the A380 program.

Emirates had firm commitments for 162 A380s, 112 of which had been delivered by the end of October. According to Sheikh Ahmad Bin Sayeed Al Makhtoum, Emirates Airline Group Chairman and CEO, the carrier will take delivery of a total of 123 A380s. That means Airbus was willing to swap an order for 39 A380s into an order for 50 A350s given its determination to shut down the program by 2021.

While the A330neo is now no longer part of the compromise to settle the open A380 questions, Al Makhtoum only said that the A330neo was “not part of the discussion” and that an order for 50 widebodies was already “a big number for Emirates.” He left open whether the carrier may take another look at the A330neo ultimately. “I don’t know what this means for the A330neo,” Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury said. The answer is likely to depend on negotiations with Boeing ongoing at the Dubai Airshow that target a restructuring of a firm order for 777Xs and a preliminary agreement for 787s.

According to Al Makhtoum, all of the A350s will be -900s. The first aircraft will be delivered in May 2023 and all 50 will arrived by 2028. Emirates cancelled an earlier firm order for 70 A350s in 2014 citing concerns over (engine) performance.

Emirates has a firm order in place for 150 777Xs and signed a tentative deal for 40 787-10s in 2017. The 2015 777X order included 115 777-9s and 35 777-8s. The airline has hinted that it may drop the -8 and take the 777-9s over a longer period of time reducing its capacity build-up in the short- to medium-term. Al Makhtoum said that discussions about the 787 and 777X are “going on. The Boeing people are here.” He left open whether the issue would be resolved at the Dubai show. 

Emirates currently only operates two fleet types, the 777 and the A380. It has now agreed to add a third, the A350. Boeing has keen interest for Emirates to stick with the 787 commitment because it already has trouble keeping production rates high and recently decided to cut back from 14 aircraft per month to 12. It is unclear whether Emirates will stick with the 787-10 or chose a smaller version to keep it separate from the A350 in terms of size.

Al Makhtoum noted that the A350 will “add more flexibility” to the Emirates fleet and will be used on missions up to 15 hours. The aircraft will have the new premium economy cabin that the airline plans to introduce in 2020.