Middle Eastern carriers Qatar and Emirates are continuing their rapid expansion plans with new orders for both the Airbus A380 super-jumbo and A350 aircraft.
The airlines chose the backdrop of Paris' biennial Air Show to make the announcements, with Emirates placing an order for a further eight A380s (bringing their total to a whopping 55), and rivals Qatar agreeing the purchase of 80 A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body) aircraft, although 60 of these replace last year's order of a different version of the A350 model. Qatar also confirmed an order for a further three A380s, bringing its total for the super-jumbo to five.
Last week (see online news June 14) Business Traveller reported that Emirates, already the largest customer for the A380 before this week's announcement, will vary the capacity of its super-jumbos from just under 500 seats on long-haul routes such as Dubai to Sydney and New York, to nearly 650 on regional routes to the subcontinent and South East Asia. The first Emirates A380s are expected to take to the skies in late 2008.
Qatar meanwhile says it will configure the A350 XWB in a two-class configuration, with between 250 and 350 seats depending on the route. But readers will have to wait sometime to experience the new aircraft, as the carrier isn't expected to start receiving delivery until mid-2013, when it will begin to replace its Airbus A330 fleet. Back to the present though, Qatar will launch its first flights to the US next week, with a four weekly service from Doha to New York via Geneva (see online news February 21 for more details).
All in all it's been a good week for Airbus, which has also received orders for two more A380s from Air France (bringing the French carrier's total to 12). It's a far cry from a year ago when the super-jumbo was mired by delays and compensation claims by disgruntled airlines – now it's just a case of persuading customers to step onboard a plane of such magnitude. Our recent survey at businesstraveller.com revealed that 56 per cent of readers would not feel comfortable travelling on an A380 with over 500 passengers onboard, with 27 per cent stating they would only want to travel on the plane if they were in business class.
Report by Mark Caswell