Emirates Airline president Tim Clark fears the industry’s shift away from the largest aircraft types could leave carriers with a shortage of seats in the coming decades, which could lead to “hugely high prices”.
“You’re not going to be able to meet [future] demand” with existing aircraft, Clark told FlightGlobal on Sept. 14. “How are you going to handle it?” he adds, noting that an excess of narrow-stream jets won’t fill the gap. “You’re going to go back to enormously high prices.” Speaking at an event near Washington DC, Clark also reiterated his view on Airbus to develop the updated A380.
“You’re talking about an airplane in 2040,” he adds. “But at least it brings back the seating capacity.
Emirates specializes in transporting large numbers of people between the world’s major cities. (Eight A380s fly daily between London and Dubai, for example.) The airline has 145 Boeing 777s and 121 A380s and is on order for 50 A350s, 30 787s and 117 777-8/9s, according to Cirium data.
Emirates aside, airlines have been moving away from 400-plus-seat, four-engine widebodies for years. The trend began before the pandemic, when Airbus stopped production of the A340 in 2012 and the A380 in 2021. Boeing expects to deliver its last three 747-8Fs by the end of the year. “We had such amazing [planes],” says Clark. Covid-19 accelerated this trend, forcing airlines to land wide-angle aircraft and dampening demand for new two-aisle airliners. Instead, carriers are eagerly acquiring new narrow-body Airbuses and Boeings.
Although the industry is well on its way to recovery compared to the depth of the pandemic, international air travel remains well below 2019 levels, and some analysts predict the segment will need until 2026 to regain lost ground.
A June 2022 report by trade group IATA predicts that air passenger numbers will grow by 3.3% annually until 2040. Clark thinks the industry is poised for faster growth — “four, five, six percent” a year in the coming years, he says.
If that happens, the industry will need aircraft larger than the A350 and 777, Clark says. Boeing says its 777-9 can hold up to 426 seats in two classes, while Airbus puts the three-class capacity of its A350 at 410.
The unavailability of airport slots will make the problem worse, he adds.
That’s why Clark thinks the industry needs a bigger new jet like the updated A380 — an idea he previously floated. Airbus did not respond to a request for comment.
Such a jet could provide efficiency through aerodynamic improvements and greater use of composite materials, and could be powered by a future Rolls-Royce UltraFan engine, Clark says. R-R said the UltraFan will be 10% more efficient than its Trent XWB, which powers the A350.
“I don’t want windows… I can create individual windows with the camera,” adds Clark. “The weight that is built into the structure of the plane because of the windows goes. If the industry doesn’t step in, Clark sees trouble. “All the advantages of mass air travel that the 747 widebody brought … will disappear,” he says.