Emirates Unable To Factor In 777X For Route Planning

Emirates already has an impressive route network spanning almost every continent, touching on major cities all over the world. But it’s not done yet. Speaking exclusively to Simple Flying, Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates, noted that the incoming 777-9s were expected to allow more capacity and growth in the network. But with uncertainty over exactly when these aircraft will begin arriving, the airline’s future route plans are stalled.

Boeing 777X Belly
Without visibility on the 777X delivery schedule, Emirates cannot plan its future routes. Photo: Boeing

Capacity growth hampered by 777X issues

Big airlines like Emirates plot expansion carefully, often many years ahead. Their delivery schedules for new aircraft coming into the fleet allows them to undertake all the groundwork for new route launches, such as securing capacity and ground support at the relevant airport, and permissions to fly as required.

But when those delivery schedules get messed about, all the airline’s hard work is undone. Emirates should have received its first 777-9 in June last year, but ongoing delays to the program means it’s now not expected before 2023 at the very earliest.

Speaking exclusively to Simple Flying, Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates, explained how this ever-changing delivery schedule is impacting planning at the Dubai-based airline.

“When the 777-9 came along, we were able to start growing the capacity and growing the network as well as taking some of the older A380s out because they were obviously coming up the retirement age. All that has been shifted to the right, but we actually don’t know by how much at this stage, which is vexing us a little bit in terms of cash management etc.”

Boeing 777X Takeoff
The 777X should have arrived in June 2020. Photo: Boeing

Already, the planning that was done in expectation of the 777-9 arriving in 2020 has had to go back to the drawing board. Clark is concerned that any more efforts put into redesigning their network at this stage could similarly be wasted effort, should the schedule for delivery slip again.

Although Boeing is clear that the first 777X should be delivered to launch customer Lufthansa at the back end of 2023, Clark is not convinced. He noted that he wouldn’t be surprised to see it arriving at Emirates as late as 2025, and until he can be certain as to when it will arrive, the airline’s network planning is stalled.

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emirates 777X
An unfinished Emirates Boeing 777X in Seattle. Photo: Jay Singh | Simple Flying

New twinjet widebodies will open up new routes

Emirates already has a substantial network, touching points on every continent aside from Antarctica. But Sir Tim is clear that the network growth is not over yet. Although Emirates’ hub and spoke model is very successful, and its partnership with FlyDubai and third-party airlines allows passengers to connect across the world, the airline wants to be capable of serving more cities and countries in the future.

The smaller twinjets will open new opportunities for the airline. Photo: Emirates

The strategy with the new plane types is not just for the replacement of aging A380s and 777s. Sir Tim explained that, while this would play a part in the process, it is largely about building out Emirates’ reach and driving the airline into new locations not capable of supporting the superjumbo service. He said,

“We already have an order for 350s. The widebody twins figure very much in our plans, not so much for replacement, but for our ability to increase frequency of already profitable city pairs and introduce new routes.

“That allows us to open a lot more areas, countries, or cities within those countries, alongside FlyDubai. So we would manage the capacity relationship between the two carriers into countries that we see real opportunity. Africa, South America and Asia. And believe it or not Europe.”

Emirates’ huge presence in European airports is not exhaustive. While the 777X is unlikely to feature on routes to anywhere other than major hubs, these giants will be complemented by the incoming Dreamliners and A350s, allowing Emirates to reach further. But, without visibility on when the first 777X is arriving, all that planning and drive to expand is on hold.

emirates 787
It will be interesting to see where the 787s go. Photo: Emirates

Is this fleet diversification a good idea?

Some might say that moving away from a two aircraft fleet-type is a negative move for an airline like Emirates. All the benefits of lower maintenance, training and planning costs that come with operating only one or two plane types will be wiped out. But Clark is not thinking along those lines. He sees huge potential in being able to grow the airline further, reaching into new locations and capturing more traffic from previously unserved countries and cities.

“With a combination of all these aeroplanes gives us an enormous potential. That’s what we’re looking at.”

In time, the 777X will be the natural replacement for retiring A380s. The A350s will see older 777s taking their leave from the airline. The really clever purchase is the fleet of incoming 787s, which are cheaper to run and easier to fill than any of the big planes. But for Emirates to crack on with its expansion into new territories, it needs to get its hands on the planes.

What do you think about Emirates’ plan to expand? Let us know in the comments.