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Emirates CEO Sir Tim Clark interview Part 2: his Boeing and Airbus woes

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This is second part of an interview with Sir Tim Clark, CEO of Emirates. We published Part 1 on Friday, click here to read. It is his combined thoughts from a moderated public Q&A and a private follow-on media session held at the Aviation Club lunch last week.

As the CEO of one of the biggest airlines in the world, Sir Tim Clark has his finger on the pulse of a wide variety of issues and is in regular contact with Airbus, Boeing and the engine manufacturers.

With the outspoken Akbar Al Baker no longer CEO of Qatar Airways and Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary (equally outspoken!) focussed on Boeing and the 737MAX issues, Sir Tim has taken up the mantle as the leading ‘speaker of truth’ about what the main aircraft manufacturers are doing.

This is particularly true for the Boeing 777X, for which Emirates is a launch customer, and the Airbus A350-1000.

Sir Tim Clark Emirates interview

Boeing’s delays on the 777X

“Everyday is a different day at Boeing.”

That’s how Sir Tim Clark started his response when asked the (inevitable) question about Boeing’s repeated delays on the Boeing 777X. The aircraft, an update to the original 777 that popularised twin-engine long haul flying, was initially due to arrive in the Emirates’ fleet in 2020.

The development program has faced so many delays that the Emirates CEO now thinks it will come in early 2026, although late 2025 is still the official guidance given.

“We did the first deal at the Dubai Air Show in 2012. So we thought probably 10 years, nine years was okay [for the aircraft to arrive]. Here we are now, and it’s going into the end of next year. Frankly, with what’s been going on over at Boeing and with the FAA increasing its surveillance and scrutiny, I’m beginning to doubt that as well.”

Despite the delays, Sir Tim hasn’t lost faith in the aircraft and at the Dubai Air Show last year signed an order for another 90 777X aircraft. This takes the Emirates order book to a grand total of 205 – the largest customer for the type.

With the A380 – formerly the world’s largest passenger aircraft – no longer in production, the 777X program is now the largest aircraft available for commercial operations. The 777-9X, the larger of the two variants on offer can accommodate 426 passengers in a typical three class configuration.

The genius of the 777X – apart from the increased efficiency from strapping on two newer, larger engines – is the new, longer wing. Folding wing-tips (a first for passenger planes) enable the aircraft to fit the same airport gates as previously despite the expanded wingspan, which itself increases efficiency.

Unfortunately, Airbus doesn’t (at the moment) offer anything at this end of the market any more, although its A350-1000 gets close. This is bad news for airlines such as Emirates which rely on the very biggest planes to ferry passengers en-masse to and from congested airports.

Heathrow alone sees six daily A380 flights to Dubai, soon to increase to seven, and I’m sure Sir Tim would like to offer more if he could. This is before you add in the Gatwick and Stansted flights (albeit no A380 on the latter).

Sir Tim Clark Emirates interview

The A350-1000 is still on the cards

All that said, Sir Tim remains interested in the A350-1000 as part of the widebody fleet at Emirates. Whilst the airline has 65 of the smaller A350-900 on order, with the first due to arrive in the coming months, an order for the larger variant has not materialised yet.

Sir Tim has been very vocal, most recently at the Dubai Air Show in 2023, that the Rolls-Royce provided engines were not performing to a level that Emirates would require.

“I was deeply disappointed with [the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97]. We couldn’t have what we needed on that.”

This has been a well documented issue, particularly in challenging conditions such as the dusty Middle East where the turbine blades are deteriorating at a faster-than-expected pace. This requires more maintenance and reduces the so-called ‘time on wing’ – ie. the number of flights that can be performed before more serious maintenance is required.

Just last week, Rolls-Royce announced it was rolling out a package of durability improvements across its Trent family of engines which also power the A330neo and are an option for Boeing 787s. The billion-pound investment is forecast to double time on wing in harsh conditions and increase it by 50% in more benign conditions thanks to improved (and more advanced) materials in the turbines.

Sir Tim, who caught up with Rolls-Royce CEO Tufan Erginbilgic just last week, says “they’re not there yet, not by any stretch.” Time on wing at the moment on the A350-1000 is “about 500 cycles. We need 2,500 …. I think what they’re trying to do is get to something like 2,000 cycles under our conditions.”

He also cited concerns around what Rolls-Royce charges. “It needs to be at a price per hour that is affordable for us.” Industry gossip suggests that the engine-maker has been less willing to negotiate in an attempt to regain profitability under their new CEO. Whilst the strategy appears to be working with some customers, it does mean that Rolls-Royce and Airbus have lost other orders to Boeing and GE on the 787 and 777X.

Despite his vocal criticism, an A350-1000 remains on the cards. “We like the aeroplane, we think if they can get the engine sorted out it’ll do great things for us.” There’s just a single caveat:

“But we’re not going to buy it until we know that it actually works.”

Sir Tim Clark Emirates interview

What about the aircraft of the future?

Taking a step back, Sir Tim also lamented the state of future new widebody programs. “The industry is faced with an acute shortage of what’s coming next.”

Whilst Boeing is tied up trying to unstick itself from the quagmire of 737MAX issues and delays on the 777X, Airbus is “absolutely fixated on single aisle and hydrogen.”

Whilst laudable, Sir Tim doesn’t see next-generation propulsion systems arriving in-time to decarbonise long haul aviation by 2050.

“Hydrogen is not going to do the job to the scale that you want, to the numbers that you want in the time that you want. In that time, all these three A350s and 787s or whatever it is, are going to run out of lives and what you’re going to replace them with is exactly the same.”

With new aircraft projects now taking 15 years, including ‘simple’ re-engine and re-wing projects such as the 777X, the next generation of widebodies won’t be available until 2040 at the earliest even if launched tomorrow.

“Where does that take you in terms of your ability to meet your sustainability targets beyond the 40s?”

The only solution, in his eyes, is to continue with current, jet fuel-based systems and increase the volume of sustainable aviation fuel that’s used, whilst bringing down overall fuel consumption at the same time.

“You need to start today and you need to apply all the technologies …. the propulsors, airframe systems, aerodynamics, metallurgical solutions to it, whether it be titanium, aluminium, or plastic or combination of the two.”


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Comments (46)

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  • Kowalski says:

    Once all the A380s are retired and the commercial aviation is left with the 777x as the highest capacity plane, how are they going to manage at airports such as Heathrow which has such tight slot restrictions? Once the 7 Emirates A380s between DXB & LHR are replaced with 777x, that will cause a reduction in capacity of 637 seats per day! No doubt they’ll be even greater demand by that point with an ever growing number of people wanting to fly the route.

    Surely commercial aviation needs Airbus to look again at the A380?

    • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

      Unfortunately Green and green politicians all across the EU (and the Eur Parliament) are already looking at Airbus. Their room for movement in the non-hydrogen space will continue to be restricted as much by sentiment as by law.

    • BBbetter says:

      It’s simply not commercially viable for airlines with 4 engines.
      Not an Airbus issue.
      Emirates will just have to add more flights at Gatwick and Stansted.

      • aseftel says:

        Tim Clark was calling for an A380neo just last year, so presumably EK think it’s commercially viable.

        • Tariq says:

          Doesn’t seem like EK are terribly concerned about the commercial viability of RR based on the engine charges comments.

        • jjoohhnn says:

          I think they need it to be an A380-900neo-plus with only two RR UltraFan’s.. Then it’s probably a goer!

      • Rhys says:

        Who say a very large aircraft needs four engines?

    • Novelty-Socks says:

      > No doubt they’ll be even greater demand by that point with an ever growing number of people wanting to fly the route.

      I might be wrong, but fashions – IMO we will likely see a levelling out of leisure demand on that route, at least.

      • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

        I agree if you mean fashions change for flying to Dubai for holidays. But in my own circle of people I know, increasingly they are flying to Dubai to visit their kids or siblings who have emigrated there, they’re travelling to explore work possibilities themselves or they’re travelling to work events/meetings there.

        I may be very pessimistic but the mono-party/no real alternatives of British politics beyond high tax/high spend/hapless results has led many people to simply opt out of any concept of a social contract. Tax-free alternatives will always look attractive to those people.

        • Rob says:

          My 12-year old is very anti-tax. It’s quite interesting given his liberal parents and sister. Taking him to Monaco last year (plus his multiple Dubai visits) make him think ‘why pay 47% tax like Dad when I could live here and pay nothing?’.

          Not very society-minded (I am perfectly happy to fund a ward of nurses per year) but I’ll work on him.

          • George says:

            Where does he think money for stuff like the army and police and streetlights comes from?

          • BBbetter says:

            Easy to talk when you are a student. Liz Truss still seems to carry that attitude even now.
            Reality hits them hard when they enter the job market. How many jobs will Monaco provide? And lets see how he enjoys 45 degrees in Dubai summer.

          • Panda Mick says:

            Point out that any allowance he gets from you, including board and lodgings, is effectively a tax on you. Without that tax, he’d be, well…..

        • Novelty-Socks says:

          Yeah I’m sure there’s truth to that as well. I might be discounting the broader demand from people connecting via Dubai as well, of course.

          (You’d need a proper live music scene and a more walkable city to get me there, but I accept I am a sample of one!)

          • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

            Tom Jones played outdoors in Abu Dhabi on Friday. And in May, the Dubai tennis stadium hosts a double headliner of BWitched and Eternal. QED

          • TGLoyalty says:

            I’d do some research because if you look you can find

  • Not Long Now... says:

    Is Hydrogen really the answer? Direct resulting output is obviously low carbon but production, at the moment at least, is still massively carbon heavy. There seems to be a greta push from oil companies that hydrogen is the future, but is this simply because they can claim oil refineries can be converted to hydrogen production and so avoid having to write down the cost of the refineries in upcoming financial reports, rather than facing up to the expected 40 to 60 year cost life being reduced to maybe 20 years if and when petrol and diesel engines eventually fall to governmental bans on production?
    Perhaps Amsterdam’s decision to reduce flight numbers for the good of the environment may be the future and flying will just have to decrease…

    • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

      I fear you’ve fallen for the line we’re all to swallow. “Flying is the enemy, flying must end” – so says this environmental group’s report funded by a think tank funded in turn by…oh, well would you look at that…funded by a major industrial producer.

      We have no viable alternative to flying, and we have no viable alternative to jet fuel. There are oodles of lower hanging fruit in industrial carbon emissions. Yet all politicians talk about are planes and heat pumps.

    • Rhys says:

      “at the moment at least” is your answer. None of these technologies are viable “at the moment” which is why it’s important to do further R&D.

    • Jonathan says:

      I think he is right to focus on the problem of over focus on hydrogen. H2 is an issue both from flammability and the need to store it cryogenically at ultra low temperatures before sending it to the engine.

      We may get the R&D sorted for it to work in the medium term but I think reliability and maintenance will be a big barrier to adoption.

      I wouldn’t want to be on a h2 powered plane for at least a decade after introduction and even then I would be much more nervous than with an aviation fuel engine.

      In the short to medium term, SAF seems a better option.

      • Rhys says:

        In the short to medium term, SAF is the only option.

        • Colin MacKinnon says:

          SAF is not really an option when that fuel could be used to displace diesel elsewhere.

          Otherwise it is really just greenwashing.

          I have a business that runs on green electricity – because we generate it inside and store it onsite with batteries.

          I could just buy from Octopus and say it is all green energy – but then the non-green electricity is just being used by someone else!

          Ps. I know Avtur is not diesel , but an ex-RAF pal used to run his car on defuelled Tornado juice with added Asda car club engine oil!

          • Rhys says:

            Except the more people who buy ‘green electricity’ the more investment is made into green generation?

            Equally, the more demand there is for SAF, the more will be produced etc.

            And arguably, SAF should be prioritised for hard-to-decarbonise industries like aviation rather than easy-to-decarbonise sectors (such as ground transport/cars etc) where we already have viable solutions.

          • ken says:

            @Rhys

            Green electricity generation hasn’t been demand led if you mean purchasing, just as the move from coal to gas wasn’t demand led. Nuclear wasn’t demand led. All were governmental push.

            SAF won’t be demand led while it is 2-3 times the price of aviation fuel. It’s unlikey to ever be truly demand led.

            Heavy Goods vehicles are not easy to decarbonise. Battery energy denisity is growing at a very slow rate – about 2% per year.
            There are a electric HGV’s in the UK but with a very short practical range (about 100 miles).
            The majority of HGV industry is based on being able to carry a load of up to 29 tonnes & being able to drive from Felixstowe (or Tilbury) to the midlands & back and be double shifted.
            Far too little to be of anything of a niche use.

            Besides, CO2 only accounts for less than one half of the climate change effect of aviation. NO2, water vapour, ozone effects etc make up more.
            So called SAF’s do little to reduce these.

          • Rhys says:

            Airlines are buying up all available SAF!

            Build HS2 – use old west Coast line for more freight – etc.

            I’m obviously talking in simple terms here but aviation is one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonise. There are many more low-hanging fruit sectors.

        • ken says:

          I’m amazed that people really think that SAF are really sustainable.

          The 80% reduction in emissions is exaggerated as it assumes fuel from crops that would otherwise rot producing methane.
          There will never be enough feedstock from used cooking oil , pork fat and beef tallow.
          Not even close. Besides, used cooking oil has been used as vehicle fuel for decades.

          SAF is 95% greenwashing as is offsetting carbon by making a donation.

          • Rhys says:

            Fuel isn’t produced from crops, it’s largely produced from other waste (eg. waste cooking fats).

            You’re right, there won’t be enough feedstock from fat. But SAF is not a single technology. The next generation of SAF will be ‘power to liquid’, using electrolysers and CO2 in the atmosphere to reverse engineer hydrocarbons.

          • TGLoyalty says:

            I mean waste cooking oil is usually from crops 🙂

            Planes are an interesting CO2 emission argument I think you should challenge the market to be as efficient as possible but its something which just cant be easily replaced.

            focusing on CO2 alone can also have the wrong consequences look at inner city air quality once everyone went diesel etc personally I think the eclectic / Hybrid cars/HGVs greatest advantage is the improvement in air quality in our most densely populated areas and not just CO2 reduction.

  • TooPoorToBeHere says:

    It’s fine remember – they’re going to turn LHR into an enormous bus station – so they will “simply” bus you to somewhere with an uncongested runway…

  • Colin MacKinnon says:

    And The Times reports today – free subscription with Amex plat – that RAF pilots are being trained in Italy and the USA because the (French) blades in Rolls-Royce engines in the Hawk T2 have a life of just 1,500 hours instead of 4,000 as hoped for.

    • BSI1978 says:

      Sorry, not related to the main thrust of the story, but the inference here is that you have a Times subscription courtesy of American Plat?

  • Chris W says:

    Emirates operates triple daily A380 to Gatwick….

    • Tom says:

      I think the wording there is saying Stansted is not A380 rather than Gatwick, phrasing could be clearer. FYI one of the Gatwick rotations is currently a 777 so Gatwick is actually not all A380 at the moment either.

    • Rhys says:

      Sorry, wording was not very clear. Have clarified now.

  • Lady London says:

    Folding wing-tips? Seriously?

    Why would you deliberately introduce a weak point onto a wing.

    Is this another 737Max when one wingtips folds or unfolds when it shouldn’t and the other one doesn’t and the aircraft goes into a spin? Really?

    Wondering are we also seeing Qatar, Etihad, Saudia and other airlines whose hubs are in the Middle East, also complain about sand problems. And is it just RR engines?

    • Rhys says:

      The plane should still be airworthy if the wing tips were folded in flight (which I believe is somehow mechanically impossible, but I don’t know) but they would obviously reduce efficiency overall. The problem with the 737MAX was that it was unstable in-flight without a software fix. I would assume (although my knowledge is limited) that failure of the folding wingtips do not make flight unsafe.

      Qatar hasn’t complained about the engines I don’t believe, but perhaps they have some sweetheart deal with Airbus.

      What is more interesting is that Tim Clark refuses to order A35ks because they haven’t proven performance….but the GEnX engines on the 777X haven’t proved themselves either! Given the increasingly sophisticated materials being used in these engines it would be no surprise to see GE struggle with durability issues either…in which case Emirates would have to lump it.

      • Opus says:

        They haven’t but GE is giving Tim what rolls won’t at that’s money backed guarantees. If GE doesn’t hit what is promised, they’ll have to pay up and given their track record I’m pretty sure they will. Rolls on the other hand…

      • jjoohhnn says:

        GE have had all this extra time to make damn sure that the GEnX work properly and are durable though, so if they have dropped the ball on this it will be ridiculous!

        • Rhys says:

          It’s irrelevant. It’s impossible to 100% test these things. This is the sort of stuff you only learn with hundreds of engines in the real world flying hundreds of thousands of hours. You can test all you like but you’re never going to match the volume and scale of real-world use.

    • Richster64 says:

      The tips would fold/unfold only on the ground as the plane pulls away from the gate, so no problem there. And I am sure you have seen what happens to wings when the flaps extend during flight – that really is an unbalanced load if one side fails.
      The landing gear folds and unfolds and carries extreme loads at times, and while there are issues from time to time, it’s still a risk you take.
      It will be totally fine, nothing to worry about.

      • CamFlyer says:

        Aircraft have taken off and landed from aircraft carriers with folding wings since the 1940s. The folding wings are far from the most hazardous part of the process.

  • Dj says:

    Sir Tim needs to wind his neck in a bit …
    Both Airbus and Boeing are facing demand issues .
    Instead of making sure that the Emirates product is good …which is not especially in First and Business Sir Tim is sounding alot like Al Bakar the ex CEO of QR

    • Tom says:

      Emirates’ product is now some distance from industry leading in business granted, but Emirates arguably has the world’s best First product for my money, slightly odd comment.

    • Paul says:

      Granted Emirates business class product could do with a bit of modernisation, especially on the 2-3-2 layout 777’s but what’s your criticism of their first class offering? I’d put that as one of the best in the world.

  • Barry says:

    Regarding Sir Tim’s last quote on the need to start a new airplane now, I suggest checking out JetZero’s Blended Wing Body project.
    It is ~50% lower fuel burn/emissions than the B767’s it will replace, with a target 2031 EIS.
    ….And the cabin real estate totally revolutionizes the passenger experience.

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