Emirates sticks with A380 but slates Airbus

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Emirates, the biggest single airline customer for the A380 superjumbo, indicated yesterday that it would stick with its $13bn (£6.9bn) order for the troubled aircraft, but launched a scathing attack on the management of Airbus and said it was also considering buying a rival Boeing jet.

Tim Clark, the president of the Gulf carrier, described Airbus's handling of the A380 fiasco as "woeful" and said that Emirates had not ruled out further delays in the delivery of the 45 aircraft it has on order.

Mr Clark said the two-year delay on the A380 programme would cost Emirates "several hundreds of millions of dollars" in lost revenues and cause a "big dent" in profits. But he indicated that there were no plans to cancel any of the order because the 600-seater plane was "integral" to the airline's expansion plans, adding that Emirates was yet to begin negotiations with Airbus about compensation for the delays.

Emirates is to send a team of eight engineers into Airbus's Toulouse and Hamburg factories in the middle of next month to carry out a one-week audit to establish whether the latest estimate of delivery dates given to it can be relied upon.

Speaking at Heathrow airport, where Emirates was opening a new business-class lounge, Mr Clark said: "It would be foolish to say that we did not expect further delays and it would be foolish to say we can plan our step up in growth on what we have heard today."

He added that, while cancellation was one option available to it under the contract with Airbus, that was unlikely to be an issue. "We didn't buy 45 A380s just to then lose the competitive edge these aircraft are giving us. These will give a stupendous improvement to our bottom line. We are not going to throw these advantages away."

But Mr Clark was savage in his criticism of Airbus, which is on its fourth chief executive in 18 months. "I have been fairly vocal to Airbus about their need to improve their communications with their client base. I read too much in the press and then hear about it from Airbus later. This is symptomatic of how they present themselves. Corporate communications is something they were falling down on a lot. Their ability to handle things and get the right spin on it was woeful."

Mr Clark confirmed Emirates is cancelling an order for 18 long-range Airbus A340-600 aircraft as it had decided they were no longer suitable for its route expansion plans. This is likely to form part of the compensation negotiations with Airbus.

He also said Emirates was looking to lease an extra seven Boeing 777s next year to help fill the gap left by the delays to the A380 and might buy some passenger versions of Boeing's stretched 747-8 jumbo jet which has a capacity of about 470 seats. Emirates is interested in a slightly different version of the stretched jumbo planned by Boeing, but if it does go ahead with an order it would be for 20 to 30 aircraft.