The History Of Emirates’ Order Book

Emirates is known for headline-making aircraft orders. Both Boeing and Airbus have benefitted from the carrier’s spending sprees over the years. But how did an airline that began operations with two leased PIA airplanes come to ordering 150 of the 777X?

Emirates A380 taking off
How did Emirates grow to become the largest airline in the Middle East? Photo: Vincenzo Pace |

Taking off with one 737 and one A300 on lease

The UAE national airline Emirates was founded in March 1985. It commenced operations on October 25th of the same year. Pakistan International Airlines provided two aircraft on wet lease  – one Boeing 737 and an Airbus A300. The first two flights went from Dubai to Karachi, Pakistan, and Mumbai, India.

Since then, Emirates has grown to become the largest airline in the Middle East. It has a mainline fleet made up entirely of widebody aircraft. It is also by far the world’s largest customer of the Airbus A380 superjumbo.

So how did the fleet go from two PIA-leased single-aisle aircraft to 117 of the Giant of the Skies (with another five on order), 150 classic Triple Sevens, and hundreds more aircraft on order? Let’s take a look at the history of the orders that made Emirates what it is today.

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Emirates A310
Emirates’ first order was for eight A310 Airbus aircraft. Photo: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia Commons

The early years with Airbus

Out of the two types Emirates operated on its inaugural flights in October 1985, only one would find its way into the airline’s fleet. The airline took delivery of six new Airbus A300s between 1989 and 1995. However, only five of these were actual Emirates orders, as the final one was leased from International Lease Finance Cooperation (ILFC).

Emirates took delivery of its first owned aircraft, A6-EKA, on July 3rd, 1987. The first of an order for eight passenger Airbus A310-304s, the rest arrived over the following six years. Emirates also later supplemented its A310 fleet with two leased jets and three of the cargo-variety.

First Boeing order

Emirates placed its first order with Boeing a year following the end of the Gulf War. The 1992 order was comprised of three 777-200s, and four 777-200ERs, with options for an additional seven.

However, only orders for two more of the ER version came in from the Dubai-based carrier before the turn of the century. Meanwhile, beginning in the 2000s, the Emirates-Triple Seven relationship was to become a lucrative affair for the American planemaker.

Emirates Beoing 777 Getty
Emirates placed its first order with Boeing in 1992. Photo: Getty Images

The Emirates A380 story begins

Emirates was the first carrier to place an order for Airbus’ new double-decker when the A380 project was introduced in 2000. The airline signed up for five with options for an additional five, launching the beginning of one of modern aviation’s most iconic relationships. It even had an order for two of the intended cargo-version.

Emirates expanded its initial A380 order with an additional 15 firm plus five options a year later. And it was Airbus that was the winner when Emirates made a big bet at the Paris Air Show in 2003. The carrier, which has become known for headline-making orders, placed the largest widebody order in history up until that point.

It signed for 21 A380 superjumbos, 18 A340-600s, and two A340-500s. At the same time, the airline also announced plans to purchase 26 Boeing 777 jets.

“It’s not risky to us; I mean, we are operating in the Gulf region, or the Middle East region. There is still a lot of potential and growth in that market,” Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, Chairman of the Emirates Group, told CNN at the time.

Emirates Airbus A380
Emirates was the launch customer for the A380 with a firm order for five in 2000. Photo: Getty Images

Fifty A380s in one sweep

Emirates has, as the only airline, continued to order A380 aircraft. A few sporadic orders of two, four, and three came in the late 2000s. Then, in 2010, the carrier decided that it was time for another jumbojet spending extravaganza and placed an order for no less than 32. The deal was worth $11.5 billion at list price.

However, we have still not reached the superjumbo peak. This came in 2013 when at the Dubai Air Show, Emirates announced it wanted another 50 of Airbus’ Giant of the Skies. The $20.2 billion deal was a boon for the program, as Airbus was yet to sell a single of the double-decker that year.

While enthusiasm for the A380 wavered, Emirates stayed loyal to its two-story workhorse. It placed a final firm order for 20 more in 2018, with options for an added 16. Now, as you can tell, the combined order numbers are far above the A380s the airline has operated, including the five it is still expecting.

Emirates A380
As Airbus was keen to end its A380 production, it agreed with Emirates to shrink its order for the plane. Photo: Getty Images

The A330neos and A350s

In a deal reached with Airbus in February 2019, the two parties reached an agreement that saw Emirates order book shrink from a total of 162 to 123 A380 aircraft. Emirates agreed instead to purchase 40 A330neos and 30 A350-900 XWBs.

In November that same year, the airline put its name down for another 20 A350s, taking the total up to 50 aircraft. Deliveries were meant to begin in 2023.

However, things have changed dramatically for aviation and the prospect of the next few years since then. While operational flexibility will most certainly be a key trait in the times to come, huge widebody fleets that could potentially stand idle are not. We shall have to wait and see what becomes of the order.

B777-300ER Emirates
Emirates has been an excellent customer for the Boeing 777 over the years. Photo: Getty Images

The Triple Sevens

In November 2005, at the Dubai Air Show, Emirates signed the largest-ever order for Boeing 777 aircraft. In a deal worth $9.7 billion, the carrier reached an agreement with the manufacturer for 24 Boeing 777-300ERs, ten 777-200LRs, and eight of its 777F freighter version. The first of the planes were scheduled for delivery two years later.

At the same event in 2007, Emirates ordered another 12 Boeing 777-300ERs. Meanwhile, that was nothing compared to the next one, which came at the Farnborough Air Show in 2011. Emirates then signed for another 30 of the type, again in an order worth over $9 billion. However, the largest 777 orders were yet to come.

Back in Dubai, in 2011, Emirates ordered 50 Boeing 777-300ERs with options for another 20. The deal was worth $18 billion and was the largest commercial order by value in Boeing’s history. Over the years, Emirates has operated 190 777s, including 11 freighters under its SkyCargo branch.

Emirates, Boeing 777X, 2024
Boeing is one of the launch customers for the 777X and has an order for a staggering 150. Photo: Boeing

The 777X and the 787s

Not one to shy away from launch customer status, Emirates jumped on the ball right away for Boeing’s new flagship 777X. It ordered 25 in November 2013, followed by a giant order of 115 aircraft a year later.

However, the carrier has since signaled that it could swap some of its 150-strong 777X order for more of the 787. Emirates firmed up its first order for 30 of Boeing’s Dreamliner in Dubai in November 2019. As with the A350s, deliveries are meant to start in 2023.

To date, Emirates has ordered 234 Airbus aircraft. One hundred sixty-six of those have been delivered. The respective numbers for Boeing planes are 319 and 133. However, order books are alive and subject to change, a fact demonstrated very vividly by the past year.

How many of Emirates’ aircraft have you flown on? What do you think will become of the giant orders the airline has with both Boeing and Airbus? Let us know in the comments.