Gulf airlines 'dictating' airplane specification

11 Nov 2013 by Alex McWhirter

First, it was price competition from Gulf carriers which rankled with the Europeans. Now it's the fact that the big airplane manufacturers are giving them the cold shoulder in favour of their Gulf rivals.

The reason is not hard to find. Between them the big three Gulf carriers — Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad — not only control more and more of world aviation, but they also have ambitious expansion plans.

The size of their long-haul fleets easily dwarfs anything seen in Europe. Emirates, for example, has ordered a total of 90 A380 superjumbos, it operates a fleet of over 150 B777s and it has ordered 70 of the yet to be delivered A350s.

The sheer clout of the Gulf carriers, plus the fact they are ordering larger and more profitable aircraft, means that the likes of Airbus and Boeing must dance to their tune.

Nowhere is this fact clearer than in the specification for the future B777X (the next variant of the B777, specifically designed for 10-abreast in economy) which according to a report in the industry magazine Aviation Week is being designed more for the needs of the Gulf carriers.

This is happening because the latter have different operational needs to the Europeans. They need a plane which can tackle 14 to 17-hour non-stop missions from the Gulf whereas, for the Europeans, long-haul flight lengths of between six and 13 hours are more normal.

Why should this matter? Because it means that Airbus and Boeing are likely to over-engineer their planes which in turn will push up the development and production costs. And this in turn will make planes more expensive to buy which in turn would reflect on operational costs to the detriment of the Europeans.

Quoted in Aviation Week, John Wojick, Boeing's global sales senior VP said, "They [the Gulf airlines] clearly had tremendous market success and we continue to work very closely with them as their business model continues to develop. They created a [business] model that's all about long-haul capacity and connecting long-distance routes around the world – it certainly has our interest."

What it means in the final analysis, says Aviation Week, is that the fortunes of the next generation of wide-bodied planes from Airbus and Boeing could be won or lost in the Middle East.

The Dubai airshow, at which the Gulf airlines are expected to place huge orders for new planes, next week will provide a pointer to the future.

Alex McWhirter

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