Emirates Casts More Doubt On Future Of Boeing 777-8

777X
The Boeing 777-9 on display at Dubai Airshow 2021.
Credit: Mark Wagner/Aviation Images

DUBAI—Emirates Airline has been told by Boeing to expect certification of the Boeing 777-9 by July 2023 but is still facing uncertainty around the timing of its deliveries and is now voicing further doubts about the continuation of its 777-8 order.

“We have come to an agreement [with Boeing] as to what we think we ought to be doing,” Emirates Airline President Tim Clark said on the sidelines of the Dubai Airshow Nov. 16. “But I don’t think we can refine [the schedule] before the middle of next year.” 

Emirates has an order in place for 115 Boeing 777Xs, of which 16 are believed to be for the -8. The original order was for 150 aircraft, including 35 777-8s, but has since been revised downwards and partially replaced by a commitment for 30 787-9s.

However, Clark indicated that Emirates has no clarity about the 777-8: “It will be pushed back and I’m not sure whether it or the freighter is going to come first.” 

He also raised concerns about Boeing’s plans to make the -8 slightly larger and also use it as the basis for the cargo version. “That is going to cause issues,” Clark said. “Why would you buy something that is so close [in size] to the -9?”

If Emirates moved away from 777-8 entirely, the future of that version would be very much in limbo. Without its commitment, Boeing would be left with only 10 firm orders for the type—all from Qatar Airways. Any potential move by Emirates may also trigger a response from its Gulf rival. With potentially no orders for the -8, Boeing would be left with the 777-9 and a freighter variant, the launch of which is expected very soon.

Meanwhile, Emirates is revisiting its fleet plan again. “A three-year delay [of the 777X] impacts everything we do,” Clark said. “We mapped out almost to the day the entry-into-service of each aircraft.” In the planning, Emirates is also taking into account the possibility that the 777-9 could be delayed longer and that it may not get the 787-9s as planned, given the one-year halt in deliveries. Clark said he has told Boeing to come up with a solid schedule as soon as possible. On the other hand, “we cannot sit around and not do anything.”

Emirates therefore plans to retain “a lot of the old -ERs” longer and the planned phase-out of the Airbus A380s towards the middle of the 2030s could also be changed, with the airline continuing to operate the aircraft for longer.

The carrier has also decided on a major cabin upgrade for a large part of the 777-300ER and A380 fleet. Fifty-three 777s and 52 A380s are to receive a premium economy cabin. Emirates is also considering installing a new business-class cabin in the 777s which would feature a 1-2-1 lay-out. The retrofits are to start at the end of 2022 and will be completed within 18 months.

Boeing is not the only manufacturer unable to meet delivery schedules for Emirates. The airline’s last two A380s were to arrive in October, then in November. Emirates wanted Airbus to confirm Dec. 10 as the delivery date for the very last aircraft, but Clark has now been told by Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury that even Dec. 16 may not be possible.

Jens Flottau

Based in Frankfurt, Germany, Jens leads Aviation Week’s global commercial coverage. He covers program updates and developments at Airbus, and as a frequent long-haul traveler, he often writes in-depth airline profiles worldwide.