Boeing's largest Dreamliner, the 787-10, is pitted against the Airbus A350-900 in competition for a big order from Emirates. The airline's chief executive says the Dreamliner engines are under-powered for his needs — though he's keeping the door open for Boeing.
Paris — Boeing is hoping to win a big order for its largest Dreamliner, the 787-10, as soon as November from giant Gulf carrier Emirates. But there’s a problem.
British-born Emirates chief executive Tim Clark, speaking to a small gathering of journalists at the Paris Air Show, said the 787-10 is a “spectacular aeroplane” but that “yes, there are issues.”
Clark is evaluating the 323-seat Dreamliner that’s due to debut in 2018 against the already-in-service, 315-seat Airbus A350-900 for Emirates’ medium long-haul flights of 8 to 10 hours. He’s looking for about 50 jets over time, which would be worth nearly $15 billion to Boeing at list prices and probably around half that after discounts.
Winning that would be a huge boost for Boeing. The 787-10, which will be built exclusively in North Charleston, S.C., was successfully launched at the previous Paris Air Show in 2013. But since then, the jet has won only one small order for three more units bringing the total order book to 140 jets.
Clark said the problem for Emirates is that the Dreamliner engines lack the ideal thrust range the carrier is looking for.
He said that when temperatures at the Dubai airport soar past 110 degrees, as they have in the past week, it creates adverse operating conditions that demand higher power.
“That makes life difficult” for the 787-10, whose engines generate about 76,000 pounds of thrust. Clark said his team estimates that up to 84,000 pounds would be needed to assure take-off with full loads all year round.
“On the A350-900, we don’t get those kind of operating conditions restrictions,” he added.
Clark readily concedes that few other airlines, if any, have such a requirement and that neither Boeing nor the 787-10 engine-makers are going to essentially develop a new engine just for Emirates. “They’ll probably say, Look, that’s it,” he said, calling that a “perfectly reasonable stand.”
Clark hastened to assure Boeing that the door is not closed. He is, after all, a master negotiator.
The A350-900 is a heavier airplane, he said, designed to fly nearly 1,000 miles further than the 787-10, which has a range of about 8,000 miles that’s enough to do the required missions.
And Clark said that while he’s satisfied the 787-10 will be very reliable in service, because it’s a simple stretch of the already reliable 787-9, he doesn’t yet have the same comfort with the new Airbus jet, only three of which have been delivered so far.
In Dubai, Emirates has up to 120 big airplanes moving in and out inside a couple of hours and so dispatch reliability is crucial, he said. He relies on his Boeing 777s, which dispatch on time 99.3 percent of the time.
On the other hand, those three A350s in service were delivered to his Gulf neighbor, Qatar Airlines chief executive Akbar Al Baker, who has been lauding the plane to Clark.
“Mr Akbar has been trying to get me to go look at his aeroplane,” said Clark. “He says it’s such a good aeroplane, the best one he’s had.”
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“We’ll put all that into the pot and just see what the assessment is,” Clark said.
The industry expects Emirates to announce its choice at the Dubai Air Show in November, but Clark said the order may wait until Dubai’s new airport in Dubai is more developed and the carrier has evaluated whether it will hold onto the 777s due to come off lease in the next few years.
“When the time is right to put a lot of the fleet jigsaw puzzles together, then we’ll see,” he said.
Saj Ahmad, industry analyst for Strategic Aero Research, believes Clark may be blowing smoke as part of a negotiation strategy.
Ahmad points out that Emirates’s other Gulf neighbor, Etihad of Abu Dhabi, which has an almost identical climate and elevation to the Emirates base in Dubai, is a launch customer of the 787-10 and plans to deploy the jets on routes similar those Emirates has in mind.
“This really is Boeing’s to lose,” said Ahmad.
However, Scott Hamilton, founder of industry analysis site Leeham.net, doesn’t discount what Clark says.
Hamilton spoke with Clark at the annual International Air Transport Association (IATA) conference in Miami last week and subsequently was the first to report Clark’s concerns about the 787-10 thrust issue in his newsletter.
A follow-up engineering analysis published on Leeham.net Monday confirmed that the engine thrust does fall short in the conditions Clark described.
“Does Clark negotiate in the press? Yes, he does,” said Hamilton. “He also means what he says.”
Hamilton believes the competition remains open, with both Airbus and Boeing now enticed to sweeten their offers to close the deal.
In Paris, Clark can take a close look at the Airbus contender.
Qatar brought one of its three A350-900s to the Air Show, where it is on display on the ground. And Airbus flies another in the daily aerial display. Tuesday afternoon, hot enough by Paris standards though not Dubai hot, the Airbus test pilots took it up above Le Bourget.
They didn’t attempt any of the vertical take-off, zero-g stunts the Boeing pilots are pulling with the 787-9 here. Instead, the A350 wheeled serenely around the sky, doing tight turns and impressing with its very quiet — but still powerful — engines.