How The 777X Delay Is Forcing Emirates To Upgrade Its Airbus A380s

How The 777X Delay Is Forcing Emirates To Upgrade Its Airbus A380s

Emirates is planning a massive retrofit of 105 of its widebody aircraft between now and 2024. More A380s will get premium economy, while many 777-300ERs will get that product plus a new and improved business class offering. The airline’s president, Sir Tim Clark, explained how this is move is a knock-on effect of delays to the 777X program.

Boeing 777X, Freighter, Emirates
Delays to the 777X mean Emirates is investing back in its older aircraft. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Emirates’ big retrofit program

Last week, during the Dubai Airshow, Emirates announced it would be upgrading the cabins of more than 100 of its older widebody aircraft. While its newest A380s have been arriving with the new cabin and a premium economy product fitted, the rest of the fleet is still flying with the original layout.

By mid-2024, Emirates plans to install premium economy on a further 52 Airbus A380 aircraft. In addition to this, it wants to fit the same product to 53 of its 777s. This will give it a fleet of 111 aircraft flying new premium economy seats, a product that some have had the pleasure of trying, but which won’t be bookable until next year.

Emirates Premium Economy
Premium economy will be bookable from next year. Photo: Joanna Bailey | Simple Flying

Alongside the introduction of more premium economy across the fleet, Emirates is planning an upgrade of the business class offering on the 777s as well. Currently, those aircraft have a less-than-appealing 2-3-2 layout which, although still high end and lie flat, is not the private experience most premium travelers are looking for today. President of the airline, Sir Tim Clark, is eyeing a 1-2-1 solution to modernize these cabins.

Many of Emirates’ 777-300ERs are relatively young. However, given that there are no more on order and that the airline plans to complete these retrofits by 2024, to get to the 53 aircraft level, the products will inevitably be getting installed on some aircraft that are seven years old – nine by the time the rollout is complete. The situation is similar with the A380 fleet.

Emirates Airbus A380-861 A6-EDO
While new A380s are arriving with the new cabin on board, dozens of older aircraft will be getting the upgrade too. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The 777X delays forced their hand

On the sidelines of the Airshow, Simple Flying caught up with Clark to ask about the impetus behind these planned retrofits. Unsurprisingly, the move to refit these older aircraft all comes back to the delays to the 777X program. He said,

If you put a three year delay on a program as big as the 777-9, it’s likely to impact everything we do. We run the airline like a military machine, we work by the clock … everything is orchestrated to precision timing.

“So when we order airplanes, and we order them well in advance, we reckon we can insert them replace old ones. The 777-9, when we ordered 150 of them in 2013, that was as a replacement for the 777. We were busy mapping, almost to the day, when the old fleet started to come off lease or whatever it may be.”

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The -300ERs will be getting some upgrade love. Photo: Emirates

Clark noted that the delays to the 777X program turned all Emirates’ careful planning on its head. Dealing with the fallout from that plus the impacts of the global health crisis has delivered a double blow to the airline. Now, Clark says, the priorities have shifted. With no 777X incoming for at least another 18 months or so, retaining as large and as flexible a fleet as possible is his focus. He said,

“The most critical thing is that we have to retain our fleet as large and as versatile is it has been. If that means we have to retain older aircraft for longer and upgrade them, then that’s what we’ll do.

“We are upgrading a lot of the old ERs, retaining some of the old ERs, and we’re looking at the phase out for the 380, which was mapped up until the mid ‘30s.”

For passengers flying Emirates, the upgrade of the 777-300ERs and more A380s will be a welcome move. Better business class on the triple sevens for premium flyers, plus the option of more premium economy seats for those on a tighter budget – happy days. But for Emirates, this is likely an investment that it didn’t plan on making, and would rather not have to do, while it waits for its new mighty twin from Boeing.

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