Emirates chief lyrical on premium economy but sad on A380 saga

by Andreas Spaeth
December 30, 2020
AirlneRatings European editor Andreas Spaeth with Emirates president Tim Clark.

Emirates chief Sir Tim Clark is lyrical about this airline’s new premium economy class to be delivered this week but sad on the A380 saga.

AR: What can you say about it?

Sir Tim Clark: It’s beautiful. It’s in the forward section of the main deck of the three-class cabin, now four-class. It’s eight abreast, 38’’ pitch with the Recaro sleeperette seat which we redesigned, they are all Mercedes-lookalikes, the color schemes are rich, the side walls are rich, they have three toilets forward and their own galley behind. It’ll be about 58 seats on the three-class A380s and 52/56 seats on the two-class operations.

On those Emirates aircraft, the Premium Economy cabin is in the front of the upper deck where First Class is otherwise. Business Class is behind. And instead of the two showers, we put three toilets in there. The seat tracks a lot of what is our Business Class seat, but here we have about 8’’ recline, footrests coming up, it’s quite a comfortable cradle seat. And it will go on all our aircraft – the 777-300s, the 777-9s, the 787s, the A350s, we have all the specifications in place.

I have talked to the former Airbus super salesman John Leahy recently…

Yes, I was reading your rather sad interview with John (below), when he finally bared his chest, when he’s got nothing to lose, he has no obligations to Airbus now other than the historic ones. It was very interesting to read that. How that aeroplane could have been, as we thought it would be, we wanted it re-engined, we wanted the aerodynamics changed, we wanted weight taken out, we wanted all sorts of systems changes, I wish they could have done that.

It came to market in 2008 when the financial crisis was imminent and it cut the program off at the knees. If it would have come out a decade before, it might have been a different story. It was just unlucky and came out at the wrong time, it was beset with all sorts of technical problems that John has been fairly honest about. I am being quoted twice in it, but I was a pretty hard taskmaster because it was ridiculous that we should have accepted aeroplanes that were technically not in good condition, they were giving us enormous problems. I wasn’t surprised by what John said, because I knew what he knew and he knew that I knew what he knew, but we couldn’t really discuss it because he was busy trying to sell me more airplanes. But when we took the first aircraft in July 2008 and before the pandemic meltdown, 80% of our profits were coming from the A380. We at Emirates never had a problem with filling it or extracting the use that we wanted. I still believe in it, but you got to have people who believe in it, people who believe they can fill it and operate the business and make this aircraft work for the brand.

But besides Emirates, doesn’t the pandemic mean the end of the A380 on a wider scale?

I’m not being disingenuous to the operators other than Emirates. But none of them seems to be able to operate it profitably. Whether that was a network issue, a fleeting issue, a cost issue, but it all surprised me. If you go for the A380, you got to go to a critical mass. People like British Airways should have had a minimum of 50 or 60 A380s and being launch customers, airlines such as Lufthansa should have had the same number of A380s as they had 747s, they didn’t. I predict many airlines that have gotten rid of their A380s, 747s, and other wide-bodies now will find themselves short of capacity.


The A380 is still as good as it always was on the trunk operations at slot-constrained airports. I predict they will look back at their A380s and think ‘maybe we could get these flying again’. I look at Singapore Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways. Etihad is fairly minded to ground them for the time being, but if things change, they can get them flying again.

Is the delay of your 777-9s another case proving nothing is ever delivered on time anymore while never living up to guarantees given?

Our original contract said December 2019 for the delivery of the first 777-9 (below), which I knew was too early, then it became June 2020, then it became 2021, now it’s June 2022. So it’s now two years late at the minimum. Now the delay actually even suits everybody. I told Boeing that they have to deliver aircraft to us that are up to their contracted specifications and deliver the promised performance in both airframe and engines –  I’d be very happy. If they don’t do that, unlike in the past, we are not ready to take the aircraft and be told ‘we’ll fix it later’. That isn’t going to happen. They have to deliver according to specifications or don’t deliver at all. The A380 had already come in with 6.8 tons overweight and we had to live with that. We didn’t let Airbus get away with it on the A350, which was so overweight again initially that we canceled the contract for 70 aircraft.

Emirates 777-9