Emirates' Largest Order Ever for A380 Superjumbo Signals Global Plans

Vacation News » Vacation & Leisure Real Estate Edition | By Alma Kadragic | June 10, 2010 10:00 AM ET

(DUBAI, UAE) -- Yesterday at the Berlin Air Show, Sheikh Ahmad bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive of Emirates airline, signed an order for 32 additional A380 superjumbo planes worth some $11.5 billion.  When they are delivered, Emirates will have 90 A380s, by far the most of any other carrier.  The second biggest buyer of the aircraft is Australia's Qantas which is waiting for 20.

Sheikh Ahmad said Emirates' strategy is to become a major gateway for intercontinental travel. Dubai has 1.6 to 1.8 million people. At least 85 percent of them are expatriates working in the UAE who see the country as a temporary home. They are customers for Emirates as are Americans and Europeans travelling to Asia and Australia who stop over in Dubai to change planes or stay for a few days.

Since the population of the entire UAE is at most eight million - according to figures released by the government last week which are not the result of a census but more of an educated guess - and more likely closer to six million, some observers wonder whether Emirates can fill the A380s often enough to make the purchase cost effective.

Moreover, Emirates has strong competition from Etihad Airlines, the official airline of the UAE based in Abu Dhabi which at 75-90 minutes by road is too close to Dubai to fly. Eithad has an even newer fleet than Emirates being a few years younger, and then there is Qatar Airlines, also very new and based in Doha, less than an hour's flight from either Abu Dhabi or Dubai. They fly to the same cities, compete for some of the same business and first class clients.

For some, Emirates' shopping for the most of the largest and most expensive passenger plane is like the creation of the Palm Jumeirah artificial islands complex, the construction of the world's tallest building, and many other would-be iconic projects: the result of a build it, and they will come approach. Whether that holds true for Emirates in the current world economy won't be clear for a while.

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