Emirates, Flydubai Order 125 Boeing Widebodies

Credit: Kurt Hofmann/Aviation Week Network

DUBAI—The two Dubai-based airlines Emirates and flydubai placed orders for a combined 125 widebody aircraft with Boeing on the opening day of the Dubai Airshow, signaling that Dubai remains committed to the growth of its hub model in spite of increasing competition in the region.

The Emirates part of the order includes commitments for 55 more 777-9s and 35 777-8s. The flag carrier has priced its latest 777X order at $52 billion. 

Emirates has also expanded its existing 787 order from 30 to 35 aircraft. The 787 commitment is made up of 15 787-10s and 20 787-8s. The deal reinstates and expands a 2013 order for the 777-8 which Emirates had walked away from, temporarily focusing on the -9.

The airline has now decided to come back to the aircraft, the design of which has significantly changed over the past decade, while its delivery schedule has also moved back substantially. Emirates Chairman and CEO Sheikh Ahmed bin Sayeed Al Makhtoum said the airline plans to take delivery of the first 777-8 in 2030.

Boeing decided to prioritize certification of the 777-9 and development of the 777-8F. Before the latest order, Etihad had been the last customer for the 777-8 with a deal for eight aircraft.

After Boeing extended the 777-8 fuselage by two frames to optimize the configuration for the 777X Freighter, meaning it can accommodate 31 main deck cargo pallets, it appears the economics of the aircraft began to look more favorable to Emirates. At a length of 232 ft. 6 in., the revised 777-8 will be able to carry up to 395 passengers in a two-class layout, compared to around 426 in the longer 777-9. The 235-ft. (unfolded) wingspan and maximum takeoff weight of 775,000 lb. remained unchanged from the original design.

Emirates already has a firm order for 120 777-9s. Those and the 90 additional aircraft are to be used to replace the existing fleet of over 140 777-300ERs “and to power our growth,” Al Makhtoum said. Now that the 747-8 and the Airbus A380 are out of production, the 777-9 is the largest commercial aircraft. The carrier also signed up for 202 additional GE Aerospace GE-9X engines that equip the 777X fleet.

On the 787, Emirates originally ordered 30 787-9s in 2019, replacing part of an earlier order for 150 777-9s. The airline was beginning to change its mind about the order as 787 delivery delays accumulated and also as it had committed to 50 A350-900s.

Emirates was continuing to negotiate a possible order for more A350s which was initially planned to be announced on Nov. 13, too. According to industry sources, the A350 deal ran into difficulties as Emirates and Rolls-Royce have so far not been able to agree on guarantees for the Trent XWB engines. It remains unclear if the deal could still be announced later during the show.

The order for the 787-8 allows the carrier to enter markets it previously could not serve as its 777s were too large, in particular, for more points in Africa and secondary cities in Europe. The 787-8 can also fly to the U.S. and points in the Asia-Pacific region. The 787-8 is materially smaller than the A350-900, the first of which is scheduled to arrive in Dubai during August 2024.

However, there is now much more potential for overlap with flydubai. The sister carrier signed up for 30 of its own 787-9s, an order that marks a significant shift in the overall Dubai airline strategy. Emirates has historically been the only widebody operator, whereas flydubai has developed a network based on the737-800 and later a MAX fleet. 

Al Makhtoum said that flydubai is now “expanding the horizon” with the 787s. They will be used on longer sectors than the airline can currently serve but will also be used on existing routes where significantly more capacity is needed. Flydubai “will remain focused on previously underserved markets” while trying to attract a broad spectrum of travelers, Al Makhtoum added.

Flydubai’s move into long-haul and widebody operation comes as Saudia and Riyadh Air have bought 39 787s each to grow their respective hubs in Jeddah and Riyadh. With Emirates, Etihad, Oman Air, Gulf Air, Kuwait Airways, and Qatar Airways also in the mix, flydubai will be the ninth carrier based in the Gulf region operating long-haul services. The airline currently has a fleet of 80 737-800s and MAXs and had firm orders for 136 more 737-8s.

Jens Flottau

Based in Frankfurt, Germany, Jens is executive editor and leads Aviation Week Network’s global team of journalists covering commercial aviation.

Guy Norris

Guy is a Senior Editor for Aviation Week, covering technology and propulsion. He is based in Colorado Springs.

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