Emirates airline pushing Boeing to update 777
Middle Eastern airline giant Emirates is demanding a 777 that will carry more passengers, fly farther and be 10 to 15 percent cheaper to operate. President Tim Clark announces Seattle to Dubai service starting March 1.
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Tim Clark, president of Middle Eastern airline giant Emirates, has lavish expansion plans that should help both Boeing and the Pacific Northwest region to grow.
With Emirates already the largest operator of big 777 widebodies in the world, he'll visit Seattle on Monday to meet with Lars Andersen, Boeing's head of 777 advanced development. Clark is working closely with Andersen on Boeing's key project to design an updated 777.
Although Boeing has its hands full right now, Clark is pushing the company for a 777 revamp no later than 2018. He's demanding a 777 that will carry more passengers, fly farther and be 10 to 15 percent cheaper to operate.
"That's the task we set them," Clark said "And my goodness, they are moving on this."
As for the region, Emirates will soon fly 777s in and out of Seattle daily. In a phone interview Wednesday, Clark said the newly announced service from SeaTac to Dubai, starting March 1, will open up the city to the Middle East, Africa, India and other parts of Asia.
"We'll open the door," Clark said. "People will see what we are doing and move with us."
Boeing intends to bump up production of the 777, its most lucrative widebody program, to an unprecedented 100 jets per year by early 2013.
Airbus has no rival to the 777 but is preparing one — the mostly composite A350-1000. At the Paris Air Show in June, Airbus announced a two-year delay in that program until 2017 to give Rolls-Royce time to develop a new, bigger engine to power its jet.
That gives Boeing a little more time, too. But Clark said his older 777s will be retired in 2017 and he wants Boeing's upgraded version to replace them.
The 777 revamp will likely include a new 787-style carbon fiber-reinforced plastic composite wing that will save weight, Clark said.
"If they can get a ton or two out of the wing by going with composites, this is something they really ought to be getting on with," he said. "The industry is very, very hungry for technological advances to improve the cost of operation, particularly in fuel."
Happily for Boeing, Clark wasn't happy with Airbus' A350-1000 announcement in Paris, which he said was done without consulting him in advance.
He said Rolls is making a presentation on its proposed new engine for the Airbus jet to his engineers in Dubai on Thursday. But he's doubtful the latest design will be powerful enough for such a big airplane in the very hot temperatures and low-pressure conditions of Dubai in the summer.
Nevertheless, Clark said both Boeing and Airbus will emerge from all their current struggles with new airplanes with technology that greatly advances aviation.
Clark won't be ordering Boeing's newest widebody jet, the freshly delivered 787 Dreamliner, which is too small for his needs. But because its new technologies will transfer to the 777, he's paying close attention to its introduction into service.
Clark said the Japanese domestic routes will be a tough test, with short, full flights into busy airports where luggage carts and food carts will bang into the airplane. How will the composite skin and all the new airplane systems hold up?
"Everybody, including Boeing, is watching that with a magnifying glass," he said. "They'll learn from all of that. Everything will be plowed back into design and development at Boeing."
In the end, he said, the Dreamliner will be a great airplane. Looking back in 10 years, Boeing will conclude that, "Yes, it took a lot of pain; but now we have the platforms of technology on which we can do other things," Clark said.
And by then, Emirates could be much bigger than it is now, dominating the airlines of the world.
The U.S. expansion announced Wednesday, with new flights from Dubai to both Seattle and Dallas, comes as the world economy teeters on the brink of recession.
"It's not a good time," Clark admitted, "but when is?"
He said Emirates will take delivery of 52 widebody jets in the next 20 months — 777s from Boeing and A380 double-decker, superjumbos from Airbus — and "come hell or high water, nothing is going to stop us bringing those airplanes in."
London-based veteran airline consultant John Strickland said Seattle's gain is Vancouver's loss.
Emirates was keenly interested in expanding into Vancouver, B.C., but was blocked by the Canadian aviation authorities to protect Air Canada.
As a result, Seattle may see a boost in both business and tourist travel.
Strickland said Emirates has tended to expand business at all the airports it has gone into, generating new traffic.
When Emirates started flying to Shanghai, he said, unexpected traffic growth arose from Chinese businessmen and engineers traveling to Africa. When it opened its flights to São Paulo, Brazil, Japanese travelers filled planes en route to the thriving Japanese community there.
In India, said Strickland, Emirates has become the de facto national airline. "They are where Air India would have been if it had been better managed," he said.
Clark said he expects a healthy traffic between Seattle-area software companies and the "silicon areas" of India where software is a big export.
And of course, jet-setting Boeing executives will likely also be big users of the Emirates business-class cabins out of Seattle.
"They ought to be," said Clark. "I'll be telling them in no uncertain terms."
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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