Airbus has warned it will shut down the A380 program if it fails to sign a stalled deal with Emirates that will allow it to deliver at least six superjumbos a year.
The European manufacturer’s outgoing chief salesman, John Leahy, told a media briefing that Airbus was still talking with Emirates.
He said that the Gulf carrier — the manufacturer’s biggest customer for A380s — was the only airline that currently has the ability to take six aircraft a year “for a period of eight to 10 years’’.
“So quite honestly, if we can’t work out a deal with Emirates, I think there is no choice but to shut down the program,’’ he said. “But I’m hopeful that we can work out a deal with Emirates and others can add airplanes on top of that.’’
Airbus had been expected to announce a deal for 36 A380s at the Dubai Airshow but officials left empty handed after Emirates sought a guarantee that production would continue for the next 10 years.
The manufacturer has delivered more than 200 A380s and has 95 in backlog but low interest in the big plane prompted it to reduce production. It will deliver 12 in 2018 and eight in 2019.
Airbus Commercial Aircraft president Fabrice Bregier vowed the manufacturer would not produce “white tails”, aircraft for which there is no immediate owner, but said there were other potential customers beyond Emirates.
However, he conceded Emirates was key to the long-term future of the A380.
The deal now appears to hinge on whether the production rate of six aircraft and its ability to extend the manufacturing life of the A380 line is acceptable to the Gulf carrier.
“We went through the exercise internally with the supply chain,’’ Bregier said. “My teams did a great job and we came to the conclusion that we needed a minimum of six aircraft a year to maintain industrially an efficient production line. So this is what I wanted to convey as a message.
“I think it’s positive because this is a challenge which I believe can be met with difficulties. But we are not looking for big quantities of A380s during this more difficult period for very large aircraft.”
Both officials maintained there was still a need for the A380 and that the big aircraft, which is popular with travellers, would see a renaissance.
Leahy said the A380 was an aircraft whose time would come.
“Why will it’s time come?’’ he said. “For a lot of reasons. One is congestion. Every 15 years air traffic doubles, every 15 years.
You’re not going to double the number of flights going into Heathrow or Frankfurt or Charles de Gaulle or JFK or LAX of Hong Kong or Beijing.
“So if people want to fly, they need to fly in bigger aircraft.”
Bregier said the challenge would be to maintain a production at six a year before taking advantage of the need to replace existing A380s and the emergence of potential new markets,
Leahy also foreshadowed the announcement of three widebody deals “within the next 30 to maximum 60 days” but did not say whether one of them would be the Emirates A380 order.
The comments came as the European manufacturer recorded another stellar year with commercial aircraft deliveries in 2017 up for the 15th year in a row, reaching a new company record of 718 aircraft delivered to 85 customers.