Berlin: Dubai’s Emirates, the Arab world’s largest airline, has placed an $11 billion order for 32 A380 superjumbo jets from EADS’s Airbus unit in a surprise opening to the Berlin Air Show.
Airbus called the unexpected vote of confidence the largest commercial aircraft order by dollar value ever. It came as EADS showed off the capabilities of its embattled A400M military transporter plane and as it faces a dispute with German military bosses over problems with two of its new helicopters.
Emirates’ order would be worth just over $11 billion at a list price of $346.5 million per plane, though airlines typically receive discounts for large orders.
It brings the airline’s total A380 order to 90 planes. Emirates chief executive Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum said he expected all 90 planes to have been delivered by 2017.
“Our latest commitment signals Emirates’ confidence in growth to come,” Al Maktoum said at a press conference.
The sheer size and scope of the order stunned Emirates’ global competitors.
“It is already to many of us a miracle that Emirates now already has more seats on intercontinental routes than and BA together with a relatively small home market,” Lufthansa CEO Wolfgang Mayrhuber said in a briefing at the International Air Transport Association’s annual meeting.
“One must assume that this is not an investment for the UAE, but it is an investment for the world.”
Emirates became Dubai’s flagship company and one of the biggest contributors to the local economy after the property crisis devastated real estate firms. The government-owned group expects to earn $1.16 billion in 2010.
The carrier, which started in 1985 with two planes, has grown to rival the likes of Qantas and Singapore Airlines for traffic between Europe and east Asia.
The order made for a splash start to the Berlin show, a biennial event that tends to be overshadowed by larger events and larger orders elsewhere.
It was big enough to attract the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, even as she came under fire from the rest of the global aviation industry for proposing a new passenger tax.
The deal brings total A380 orders to 234, but the aircraft is far from delivering a profit to Airbus after delays and heavy costs caused by problems in fitting each plane’s 500 kilometres of wiring.
Airbus sales chief John Leahy, who had previously forecast 20 A380 orders this year, said more were possible.
Just as Emirates announced the order, a giant A400M buzzed the show, demonstrating its aerobatic abilities.
The A400M European troop transporter was built to provide much-needed airlift to seven European NATO nations but is four years late and almost €8 billion over budget.
The buyers — Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey — set a provisional €3.5 billion bailout in March but the deal has yet to be formalised as budget problems spread in Europe.
Watched by Merkel, whose government has severely criticised Airbus over the delays, the aircraft performed a series of stunts and steep banking turns on its maiden public display. It is expected to enter service in 2013.
EADS said last week the two planes in testing were working well and two more test planes should go into service this year.
Airbus chief Tom Enders told an industry dinner packed with airline CEOs on Monday night he would gladly sell any of them an A400M — drawing laughs but no obvious takers.