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Sun, Apr 29, 2007

Airbus Wins One A380 Battle, But May Lose Another

Hold Onto Emirates Order; US Airports Call For Tighter Standards

European planemaker Airbus won a key victory in its battle for support of its A380 superjumbo this week, as the chairman of Emirates -- the largest A380 customer, with 43 orders for the massive plane -- indicated not only would the Dubai-based carrier hold onto its existing orders, but it is also considering ordering as many as 15 more.

"As Dubai grows, so does Emirates Group," the company's chairman, Sheik Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum, told The International Herald Tribune. "Emirates is investing in aircraft for the 15 million visitors we expect to have by 2015."

Sheik Ahmed added Emirates and Airbus are close to working out terms of compensation for the 22-month delay in delivery of Emirates' first A380, now scheduled for August 2008.

"We have faith in Airbus," Sheik Ahmed said.

That news is especially welcome to Airbus, which has seen several recent Emirates orders swing against the planemaker -- and in favor of American rival Boeing. Emirates ordered 10 Boeing 747 freighters and leased five 777-300ERs in 2006, partly to make up for the A380 delays, and resulting lost capacity.

As Aero-News reported in January, Emirates followed those orders with a deal for 12 more long-range 777s.

Emirates is now negotiating with both manufacturers for a piece of a 100-plane widebody order. Emirates CEO Tim Clark told IHT it is likely such an order would be a mix of Boeing 787s, and Airbus A350 XWBs.

"We are still in the planning process and reviewing our expansion plans," Clark said. "This is a process that is going to take a few months yet, probably lasting through the summer."

Favorable news from Emirates comes as the US Government Accountability Office issued its report Friday on the impact the A380 would have on American airports.

"Most US airports that we visited that expect to receive the A380 are not designed for aircraft of this size," the agency said, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The GAO cited San Francisco International Airport as an example of how capacity would be strained by A380 operations; when an A380 arrives at SFO, aircraft will not be allowed to operate on parallel taxiways, due to proximity issues.

At another airport -- which the GAO didn't name -- there would be a three-minute hold for runway operations, while the A380 taxis on adjacent taxiways.

"Aviation safety and capacity may be adversely affected by this enormous plane, further taxing an already strained US aviation system," said Florida Congressman John Mica, in response to the report.

Mica has criticized Airbus in the past, for its reliance on government subsidies.

Airbus spokesman Clay McDonnell said the GAO report doesn't consider the increased number of passengers an A380 can carry. Two loaded A380s, for example, offer the same seating capacity as three Boeing 747s, McDonnell said.

"Airports are scrambling to get this airplane," McConnell said in defense of the A380, which is certified to carry as many as 853 people. "They see it as a solution to capacity constraints."

FMI: www.airbus.com, www.emirates.com

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