Emirates rules out Airbus A350 purchases until Rolls-Royce resolves engine issues

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Dubai-based Emirates airline has ruled out buying Airbus A350-1000 jets until durability issues on its Rolls-Royce engine are ironed out.

Sir Tim Clark, Emirates’ president, said the fuel-efficient engine did not meet the Dubai government-owned carrier’s maintenance requirements. “We don’t buy aeroplanes that are defective,” he told reporters at the Dubai Airshow on Tuesday.

If Rolls-Royce makes technical adjustments to allow it to operate better in Emirates’ hot, dusty base of Dubai, the airline would consider purchasing up to 50 of the aircraft, he added. “Rolls-Royce knows what we want it to do and it would then re-enter the mix of assessment for our fleet plan,” he said.

Rolls-Royce defended its engine, rejecting the suggestion that it was “defective”.

“The Trent XWB engine family is the most efficient, most reliable large gas turbine that is out in the market today,” Rob Watson, president of civil aerospace at Rolls-Royce, told the Financial Times, adding that the company had “just closed a deal this morning”.

Watson acknowledged, however, that the company’s largest engine, the Trent 97-XWB, faced durability issues in hot, dusty climates.

“What we are all seeing [across the industry] when these engines operate in hot sandy environments is that the durability is less good than in benign environments.”

Rival engine maker Pratt & Whitney’s latest-generation engine has encountered similar durability challenges in recent months.

Rolls-Royce is looking to insert some technology upgrades into the existing fleet of engines to help them cope better with hotter climates, Watson added.

Christian Scherer, Airbus chief commercial officer, earlier on Tuesday said that the Rolls-Royce engine was “perfectly fine” and “operated by many customers around the world”.

Separately, Clark said Emirates had not seen a significant operational impact from the war in Gaza as global flight demand has generated record financial results for the Dubai-based carrier.

Emirates, he said, had absorbed the impact of cancelling its Tel Aviv-Dubai route in the wake of the October 7 attacks in Israel by shifting capacity to other segments. He added the route had been “the fastest-growing city pair” he had seen in his career.

The carrier, launched by the Dubai government in 1985, has become accustomed to difficult geopolitical issues in its troubled neighbourhood, including conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

“I won’t belittle what has happened . . . but we will work around it,” he said.

Clark played down the threat posed by growing regional competition to Emirates’ leadership position among the Gulf supercarriers. He said the airline had already managed to grow despite the emergence of rivals in Turkey, Qatar and Abu Dhabi. The latest entrant is Riyadh Air, a Saudi carrier born out of the kingdom’s ambitious economic diversification plans.

“They have all fallen back on to the essence of the model we have constructed here,” he said. “Dubai remains an enormously powerful magnet and continues to grow — there is lots of activity in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.”

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