Emirates Is Considering Radically Changing Their Fleet

For an airline of their size, Emirates has a remarkably consistent fleet. Emirates exclusively operates widebody aircraft, and more specifically, only operates the A380 and 777. At the moment they have 250 planes in their fleet, with another 223 planes on order. Of the planes on order, 49 of them are A380s, and the balance are 777s (including 150 next generation 777-8 and 777-9 aircraft).

Emirates-A380-First-Class-01

Emirates has long had a widebody-only fleet, though up until recently they had A330s and A340s in their fleet as well.

This is very different than their Gulf rivals, Etihad and Qatar, which have different fleets. Qatar has fewer planes than Emirates, but despite that has A320s, A330s, A340s, A350s, A380s, 777s, and 787s.

There are pros and cons to having such a consistent fleet.

On the plus side, there are economies of scale associated with such a consistent fleet. Operating costs are certainly lower, in terms of maintenance, parts, crew training, the ability to swap planes and do maintenance, etc.

Emirates is also the only airline to be crazy about the A380, and they already have almost 100 of them. While the dozen or so other airlines operating the A380 feel lukewarm (at best) about the plane, Emirates loves them. I think it’s largely because they’ve been able to scale their operations so much. There’s something to be said for offering thousands of seats in some markets per day.

At the same time, there are downsides to having such a simplified fleet. Specifically, you really can’t right-size capacity for some markets very well. Sure, there’s quite a bit of capacity variance between Emirates’ 777-200 and A380, but at a minimum their planes have 266 seats. That’s simply too much capacity for some markets.

Emirates-777

Sure, Emirates can often sell those seats, but it comes at the expense of yields. In other words, many of those excess seats are going to passengers paying very low fares.

With that in mind, it seems like Emirates is seriously considering modifying their fleet going forward. Per CNN Money, Emirates is considering placing an order for narrowbody planes, like the 737 or A320, over the next 18 months or so:

Emirates Airline President Tim Clark said he is looking at buying smaller single-aisle jets, better known for tighter cabins and fewer amenities, rather than its opulent airliners with showers and walkup bars.

Clark, longtime president of the world’s largest international airline, told CNN’s Richard Quest there are three different studies on his desk today. Over the next 18 months the airline will decide between adding the smaller aircraft like the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320, combining that with a deal for smaller twin-aisle jets, or continuing to only buy twin-aisle aircraft.

I’ll be very curious to see what kind of a path Emirates decides to take here. Will they value consistency and capacity above all else, especially as the global demand for air travel continues to increase, or will they prioritize passenger yields, and operate smaller planes that will allow them to not dump capacity in markets as they’re doing now.

What do you guys think — will/should Emirates buy narrowbody planes, or stick to their simplified widebody fleet?

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. Flydubai (all 737’s) is effectively a subsidiary of Emirates, so don’t they take up a lot of the lower volume routes anyway?

  2. I can’t really see this happening. People go out of their way to fly Emirates because they are the biggest and the best. No-one is going to get excited by an A320 or a B737.
    I’ve always thought while it makes sense for Emirates to use A380s to the ‘first tier’ European cities (LHR, CDG, FRA, AMS, MXP etc), they would then use B777s for the ‘second tier’ cities (VIE, BUD, CPH, MAN, BCN etc). That could potentially mean they could use narrow-bodies for what I would call ‘third tier’ European cities like QR do (MLA, HEL, VCE, LIS, BEG etc).
    However EK use A380s for both first and second tier cities, and sometimes even third tier cities already just because they can. If they can’t make a B772 work for a particular destination I’m not sure whether radically changing it to a 737 will work either?
    Perhaps these narrow-bodies (if they happen) will be operated as a regional arm of EK only ‘Emirates Link’ or something, and just do Middle-East/North African/Eastern Europe flights of under 2 hours only.

  3. I’ve thought of this in terms of airports like SEZ where Etihad just runs an A320. Does it put Emirates at a disadvantage, or does it allow them to dominate the market?

  4. I could see them adding an 787-8 fleet for those lower demand routes. But a narrow body seems a bad fit given their brand is built on luxury, something that arguably can’t be achieved with a 737/A320.

    787s could also enable right sizing of long and skinny routes. I know a couple of markets like Adelaide, Australia which would be pretty light on traffic and would struggle to regularly pack a 777.

  5. Emirates can only add seller planes and more frequencies once the new airport (DWC) is up and running. The current airport (DXB) is already at capacity plane movement wise.

  6. I hope those narrow bodies have first in 1-1 suites config, business in 2-2 flatbed config, and who cares about the peasants in economy anyways. I say stuff em in the cargo hold!

  7. The suites should be like emirates executive. Also, they could operate these on thin, premium heavy routes like Salzburg.

  8. Anything can be achieved by an airline. It is up to them to decide the hard products and soft products though.

  9. It will be interesting, if (and how!) they continue their 3-class-concept in narrowbodies on shorthaul. Everything smaller than A321neo is hardly an option.

  10. QR uses A320/1s on regional routes and even some thinner ones around the Mediterranean which seems logical given loads these tertiary cities yield, particularly if an airline’s only option is a B777! EK has reached the max for primary and secondary routes and expansion is into tertiary markets where its current fleet makes little sense unless frequencies are less than daily. On potential high yield $ routes within the region, QR offers lay flat seats on these narrow bodies (as UA and AA have on their SFO/LAX/NYC trancons) in their front cabins which are sold as F or J depending upon the lucrative origination city and its likelihood to feed F passengers onto QR’s few A380s and their destination cities. EK needs such flexibility as competition from its Gulf neighbours (QR and EY, plus Turkey’s TK) intensifies and all are feeling the pinch of premium cabin overcapacity leading to discounting J fares.

  11. @Ben – I disagree. Perhaps in premium classes yes, but in economy it doesn’t really make a difference whether you are on a 777, A380 or 737. It is all the same in terms of passenger comfort. I could see how an A330 or A340 is nicer as you can have two seats by the window instead of three but most of these newer planes are 3-4-3 or 3-3-3 anyway so it hardly makes a difference. The comfort aspects like legroom, seat amenities, entertainment, availability of toilets are all down to airline business decisions and can be great or awful on any aircraft. I do agree that people may perceive widebody as more comfortable, or have issues with small spaces, but objectively there is nothing special in economy on a widebody plane vs narrowbody.

  12. The smart move would be to swap out future 777 orders for 787-8/9 so as to better handle mid markets that just really don’t warrant 270 seat larger aircraft. Oslo, Budapest, Warsaw, etc. I imagine a lot of these routes have horrible loads on the larger birds. Single aisle makes little sense right now as the majority of their routes do justify twin aisle….they just need a smaller version. Also handy for long range low yield flights to South American destinations, etc. As well, this will enable them to continue their brand and in flight amenities in a similar fashion for a fairly consistent product (minus showers and bar…but that does not factor in swapping out the 777)

  13. Either adjust your fleet to the routes, or adjust your routes to the fleet. Either be content with your current network and continue offering a streamlined operation for it, or try to expand into smaller markets with smaller planes.

  14. As a business traveler at one of the world’s largest sources of business travel spend, the strongest selling point for Emirates among my colleagues is consistency of knowing the business class seat you get. You’ll never get a recliner seat in J, always a lie-flat (or nearly lie-flat), and that’s a huge difference. I’m sure that’s one of the things they will be looking at.

  15. People keep saying ‘minus shower and bar’. I find those people stupid, since emirates can put them on narrow bodies if they wanted to
    .

  16. @Varun I am not sure where “minus shower and bar” is considered stupid? Given the size and layout of a 787 (or even 777 for that matter) the feasibility and financial restraints of a shower (even one) are absurd. Sure, a bar is possible as demonstrated by Virgin….but it is by no means anything close to the onboard bar of the A380 in size and expansiveness and, again, why bother (a nice spread and well positioned counter of snacks and drinks would be more than sufficient). So yes, sure, I can put a bar in my SUV over, say, a Sprinter Van Conversion if I want…but it makes me stupid for saying that it’s a poor use of available space? If you wish to discuss further the reasons why the a380 vs a 787/777 is the only aircraft that can remotely justify these showers do let me know.

  17. No point when FlyDubai is already there. They can code-share like Cathay Pacific-Cathay Dragon or Singapore-Silk Air.

  18. FlyDubai are soon moving their entire operation to DWC, freeing up space at DXB.
    Many destinations in Saudi or Pakistan, for example, are too small for a 777, and Emirates are losing local traffic to FlyDubai or Air Arabia, and losing transit passengers to Saudia or Qatar. Maybe they feel operating their own narrowbody aircraft on these routes is viable.
    That said, I’d be incredibly surprised if they did order any smaller aircraft.
    Given that many of their 777s and A380 are only two class, any talk of putting 3 classes on a narrowbody seems laughable.

  19. @Stuart

    The B777 to OSL is not due to passenger numbers, but freight volume. Think Emirate runs 2 B777F a week on top of the daily B773.

    For what I have heard Emirates deliberately don’t sell all the seats to take on more cargo, same with the Thai B777 to BKK.

    Mostly seafood, some days there so much volume that some of it gets trucked to CPH or ARN because all flights out of OSL is maxed out.

    If EK goes narrow body the obvious choice would be A321LR, range as a B757 and unlike the B737 can take containers.

  20. I recently travelled to Australia with emirates in business class on a 380 for both legs of the journey out. Unfortunately on the return one leg was a 777 and the difference between the two planes was amazing. I will never travel on a 777 again unless there is no option.

  21. Dubai is the busiest international airport in the world, and so has the ability to fill these bigger planes. But given where they are, their fuel costs are trivial, their taxes are trivial and their government will foot the bill anyway

    Heck if there were an A380 flying from SFO to LAX, I’d take it.

  22. To retain a consistent passenger experience and position as a premium carrier, they should get some small 2 aisle planes. Could be 787-8 or even new build 767’s. Whatever.

    Unless marketed as “Emirates Express ” or similar, going with single aisle would dilute the brand

  23. @Karim: Eco service in 388 is different than 773. Seats are better in 388, but in terms of services, 773 is much better thanks to the galley position… Same applies for meal service in 388, I find it better in the 773, at least it doesn’t take 30mn from the head of the cabin to the end…

    I flew QR to BUD in a A322 and EK in a 773… There is no comparison ! A322 is ok for a 3h max flight, not 5+, there’s only one toilet set at the back, and if you fly with a bunch of emiratis, they’ll talk for the whole flight with the male FA in the aisle, while service is going or you try to get some sleep: no more QR for BUD.

  24. Boston is a good example of a station where the A380 is kept away because pairing it with the 777-300er represents too many seats in the market. Boston needs to be a double-daily market because the demand each day exceeds what one A380 can lift. The A380 would work in Boston if they could pair it with a 787…a plane they don’t have. A glaring gap in their fleet.

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