Airbus SE clinched a last-minute sale at the Dubai Air Show with Emirates, which agreed to purchase more of its A350-900 aircraft in a compromise order after the airline said the larger variant of the widebody didn’t meet its expectations.
The Dubai-based carrier will take 15 of the A350-900 model, according to a statement by the airline on Thursday that confirmed a Bloomberg News report. The new commitment adds to 50 of the same plane that Emirates previously ordered. The airline will take delivery of the first aircraft in Aug. 2024 and the handovers will stretch into early 2028, it said.
The agreement announced on Thursday followed a roller-coaster negotiation that played out publicly during the expo. Emirates had previously targeted an accord for as many as 50 of the larger A350-1000 model, but those hopes were dashed over the week. The mood at the Airbus chalet turned gloomy after Emirates President Tim Clark called the A350-1000 “defective” because of what he said are overly frequent maintenance cycles on the engines.
Airbus’s flagship aircraft is powered exclusively by Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc engines, and Clark said on Tuesday that the hot climate in the Middle East and high utilization of planes are less forgiving on modern engines like those powering the A350-1000.
In the statement, Emirates hinted at the challenges ahead by saying that it “will work closely with Airbus and Rolls-Royce to ensure our aircraft deliver the best possible operating efficiency and flying experience for our customers.”
While a purchase of the A350-900 isn’t what Airbus had initially hoped for, it lets both sides make up after the public falling out at the show. It also gives Emirates a potential placeholder agreement to convert some A350-900s to the -1000 version once the airline’s concerns about engine performance are satisfied. Clark said on Tuesday that he’s content with the actual aircraft, and that it’s the engines that need improvement.
Airbus was left hanging for days while arch-rival Boeing Co. came out of show with a massive haul. On Monday, Emirates ordered Boeing widebody aircraft in a deal the airline said is valued at $52 billion. The US company also won accords with carriers from FlyDubai to Royal Jordanian, far outpacing Airbus at the biennial event.
The A350 is Airbus’s largest and most advanced jet. The aircraft has been increasingly popular with carriers seeking to replenish their long-haul fleets. The larger -1000 variant has enjoyed a strong year, also because it can ply the longest routes that have become more common after airspace closed to many airlines in areas like Russia and Ukraine.
It’s not uncommon for airlines and manufacturers to publicly clash, only to make up shortly thereafter and agree on a deal. Former Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker relished a good fight with Airbus and Boeing, keeping them on tenterhooks until he signed a deal. Clark has followed a similar tough-love approach, proclaiming to walk away from a deal or needing more time, and then swiftly turning around and closing the purchase.