Emirates and Airbus are in the final stages of negotiations for another significant A380 order. Will they be announced here at the Dubai Airshow?

“I hope we will be able to do it,” Emirates Chairman and CEO Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Makhtoum said in Hamburg on Nov. 3 as the airline took delivery of its 100th A380. “We are still in negotiations” he said, adding that “we remain committed to the program.”

Emirates has placed orders for 142 A380s, of which 100 had been delivered by the first week of November.

The speculation comes as the airline faces slowing growth, which is expected to be in single digits in the coming years.

In 2016 Emirates took delivery of 36 aircraft (20 A380s and 16 777s), but it also retired 29 aircraft, mostly older 777-200s and -300s. This year the airline plans to take 22 aircraft and has so far retired nine: one 747F and eight older 777s. In its financial year 2017 (ended in March), the airline’s traffic grew by 8.4%, but that growth came at the expense of load factor (from 76.5 to 75.1%) and yield, which is now 20% below where it was in 2014. And the group’s operating profit was down 71%.

Furthermore, the airline late in 2016 for the first time decided to defer A380 orders. Six aircraft that would originally have been delivered this year are moving from 2017 to 2018 and six more from 2018 to 2019.

But the big question is whether Airbus manages to convince Emirates to buy into the A380plus. The project was presented in June – its main features are an increase in maximum take-off weight from 575 to 578 tons and a dense, re-arranged cabin that makes space for 80 additional passengers. Emirates’ initial response has been cautious and Emirates Airline President Tim Clark has rejected key items of the cabin changes such as the removal of the forward staircase.

Clark at one stage had pondered an order for up to 200 more had Airbus launched the re-engined A380neo.

There is, however, a not insignificant group inside Emirates that is critical of the A380 exposure, according to an industry source. They argue that the airline should instead focus on expanding the 777 fleet to generate higher profits, taking advantage of both the lower costs and ability to control yields with a smaller degree of capacity expansion. Nonetheless, one observer believes Emirates may buy ten or 20 more A380s at the air show as a token that it sticks to the program.

The other big fleet decision is whether Emirates will order either the A350 or the 787 for sectors up to ten hours around Dubai. The airline has been studying that case for years, having cancelled its initial order for 70 A350s in 2014. Clark recently indicated that no decision is imminent.

To understand Emirates’ fleet scenarios, it is important to keep in mind that Dubai’s air transport strategy has dramatically changed. Ever since sister carrier FlyDubai was launched in 2009, the two airlines have operated with no integration. But now they have been tasked with close integration of systems, operations, commercial and network.

There are major issues to be addressed in terms of the fleet and operations. FlyDubai operates narrowbodies with a cabin product that has not been in line with Emirates’, although the airline has moved away from its original low-cost concept and now offers a business class cabin. FlyDubai has 58 737-800s and took delivery of the first of 76 737-8s in July. The two carriers have to decide to what extent alignment is needed.

Including a large fleet of 737s in the broader Emirates world raises questions about what number of either A350s or 787s will be needed as many sectors up to six hours could conceivably be covered by the 737 fleet. Separately, the airlines need to figure out ways to transfer passengers within Dubai. FlyDubai still operates from the low-cost terminal 2 on the other side of the two runways, whereas Emirates mainly uses the big terminal 3.

The FlyDubai project is a huge grabber of management attention for an airline that has already imposed upon itself a deep self-review of processes and IT systems. The two projects mean that the airline is, for the first time since its launch in 1985, tasked with integrating with another carrier and a fundamental process restructuring at the same time.

And where the FlyDubai integration leads is not yet clear. One underestimated side-effect is that FlyDubai can no longer move to the new Dubai World Central Airport as intended and therefore cannot free up space for Emirates at what is already an extremely congested Dubai International Airport (DXB).