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Originally published May 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 19, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Emirates airline CEO lets ambition fly free

As chief executive of a big Middle Eastern airline with ambitions to be colossal, Tim Clark pushes both Boeing and Airbus to their limits...

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

As chief executive of a big Middle Eastern airline with ambitions to be colossal, Tim Clark pushes both Boeing and Airbus to their limits.

"We have always been pretty pushy. You've got to be," said Clark, a small, steely Englishman who is CEO of the Dubai-based airline Emirates. "They've got to build what we want."

Because of Emirates' plan to expand nonstop service globally from its hub in Dubai, the carrier wants bigger jets and longer-range jets than just about any other airline.

Clark was in town Friday telling Boeing he wants a bigger 787 Dreamliner, a lighter 777 and a longer-range 747 jumbo jet.

He also came to check out the latest premium cabin just installed on a brand-new Emirates 777 jet, and declared himself "bowled over" by the new enclosed suites it will feature in first class.

Over breakfast at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle, Clark said Emirates plans to expand in the U.S. as soon as he gets planes with enough range.

The West Coast expansion plan includes direct 16.5-hour flights from Dubai to Los Angeles, and possibly flights into Seattle, too, he said. It awaits the delivery of 10 new ultra-long-range $230 million Boeing 777-200LR Worldliners he has on order.

"All this is really constrained by our friends here in Boeing being able to roll out the airplanes fast enough," Clark said.

Once he has the jets, Clark said, the airline will sharply raise its profile in this country, and is seeking a U.S. sport to sponsor.

Meanwhile, both Airbus and Boeing are vying for a huge order for 60 to 100 midsize widebodies, a contest between the new 787 and Airbus' proposed rival A350.

Clark is demanding that both manufacturers extend the design specifications on the largest 787 and A350 models. He wants Boeing to go for a 787-10, bigger than the three variants already offered.

Clark said the order will be winner-takes-all, and he won't decide until later this year, after the Paris Air Show.

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Airbus and Boeing put up with this for a simple reason: Emirates buys huge. Owned by the ruling family of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, the airline is the flag carrier in a country glittering with wealth and expansive projects.

Its goal is to make Dubai one of world's largest airport hubs, served by the world's biggest airline.

Emirates has a firm order for 47 Airbus A380 superjumbo jets, worth $15 billion at list prices. After discounts, it's likely Emirates paid around half that amount.

Last year it ordered 42 Boeing 777s and ten 747-8 jumbo freighters, worth $13 billion at list prices. Based on estimates by aircraft valuation firm Avitas, the actual price after discounts is about $7.7 billion.

The airline has taken a new 777 every month this year. Clark described the 777-300ER as "the bedrock of our fleet," which totals 102 aircraft.

"It's a fabulous machine," he said. "It's hugely popular with our consumers; it's spacious; it's fast; it's thoroughly reliable ... maintenance is a pittance."

Despite that glowing report, though, Clark said the proposed A350-1000 will snap at the 777's heels. The Airbus jet, with a composite-plastic airframe like the 787, will be lighter and have new engines.

He urged Boeing to respond by taking more weight out of the 777.

To fly into the U.S., Emirates needs more ultra-long-range aircraft. At the moment, its only U.S. destination is New York, served by an A340-500.

But the 777 Worldliner has displaced that Airbus rival as Emirates' preferred ultra-long-range jet.

The airline gets its first 266-seat Worldliner in August. It will fly Dubai-Houston direct, a 17-hour trip set up for oil-business travel. With subsequent deliveries, Emirates wants to expand to L.A., then San Francisco. (The routes go over the North Pole, so Houston is farthest.)

Clark said he could easily fill a 400- or 500-seat plane on the L.A. route, but neither the Boeing 747-8 nor the A380 will fly that far.

He also is asking Boeing to push the range of the 747-8. Though he knows the jumbo will likely never make it to L.A. nonstop, he's interested in flying it to Australia.

Though Seattle is on Emirates' radar as a destination, it's likely near the bottom of a list that includes Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The Seattle route would suit a smaller jet than a 777, say an A350 or a 787 Dreamliner. Hopeful news for Boeing: Clark was very impressed on his visit to the 787 assembly line.

"I looked at the fuselage. Not a blemish. It was like that," he gushed, pointing to a shiny hotel coffee pot on the breakfast table. "Beautiful."

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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