Emirates' options on an A380 replacement are complex. Use 777s, cut capacity, grow frequencies?

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The A380 is almost synonymous with Emirates, which operates 96 A380s – 45% of the global A380 fleet. Emirates has a further 46 on order while ANA, Qatar and SIA have 10; other outstanding orders may not be realised. Less well remembered is that, as important as Emirates is to the A380, the superjumbo is intertwined with Emirates. Most airlines use their small A380 fleet as a showpiece flying a handful of flights.

For Emirates the A380 is a workhorse, reaching 47 airports with 172 daily flights. Since Airbus is unlikely to proceed with an A380neo update, Emirates faces the difficult question of how to restructure its production model with inevitably smaller aircraft: endure capacity cuts or grow frequencies.

With the 747-8 also fading, the next largest aircraft is the 777-9, of which Emirates has ordered 115. Replacing an A380 with a 777-9 one for one could mean a 25% capacity cut.

If Emirates wanted to maintain capacity on London Heathrow, for example, it would have to replace six A380s with eight 777-9s. Even if the cost of additional flights were accepted and manpower were found, slots (e.g. London Heathrow), hub congestion (Dubai) and traffic rights (Sydney) may stymie frequency growth.

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