Emirates President Tim Clark on Wednesday sharply criticized Boeing and Airbus along with engine suppliers Rolls-Royce and General Electric for failing to make reliable products, saying the companies may lose business as the global economy slows and airlines become more selective about which planes they will accept.
“I am a little bit irritated that, over the years, we as an airline, and I think as the industry, have been subjected to the requirements of the propulsion manufacturers, and to an extent the airframe manufacturers, where we are expected to deal with quality control issues and design issues, and operate these aircraft and engines, and take whatever consequences there are when they don’t work,” Clark said during a briefing in London, where he was attending the Aviation Festival. “We are not in a business to deal with aircraft that don’t function properly.”
Clark’s comments come as Emirates, its fleet long dominated by mammoth Airbus A380s, prepares for a future in which it flies more dual-engined jets and fewer four-engine superjumbos. Over the past six years, Emirates has placed orders for, or expressed serious interest in, the newest jets produced by Boeing and Airbus, such as the Airbus A350, Airbus 330neo, Boeing 777X and Boeing 787.
On Wednesday, however, Clark warned the manufacturers he won’t take any of the jets until Airbus and Boeing can deliver the reliability Emirates expects.
Safety is not an issue, Clark said, but Emirates cannot afford to keep pulling its most expensive assets from service because the airframe or engine needs repair. He said Emirates aims to achieve at least 99.5 percent reliability from its fleet, and expects to do little maintenance on an airplane for the first five years of its life.
“I’m not saying we don’t like the A330,” he said. “I’m not saying we won’t like the 787-9 and -10. I’m not saying we don’t like the A350. These are hugely potent aircraft that eventually will get all their operations sorted out. They are outstanding designs. Unfortunately they’re not being put together as well as they should be.”
GE and Rolls-Royce Complaints
In a wide-ranging discussion in a hotel conference room, Clark said Emirates will honor its purchase commitments, but said contracts protect the airline from accepting delivery of aircraft that do not hit specifications, for range, fuel burn and other metrics, that had been promised.
And he hinted Boeing is not close to providing what it has promised for the Boeing 777X. Emirates has ordered 150 of the next-generation jets, but Clark said he is concerned about General Electric’s engine design.
“The fact is, the Boeing 777X is delayed as a result of engine issues, and we are unsure as to when this is going to be resolved” Clark said. “I have been in this business longer than I like to remember, and I have seen airline and engine developments which are beset with problems. The airlines are now being required to deal with those, and work together with manufacturers to get them resolved. I say no. I say, ‘you give us airframes and engines that work from day one.’ If you can’t do it, don’t produce them.”
Clark said he has similar concerns with a top GE rival, Rolls-Royce, which makes engines for the A380, as well as other jets.
“There is no stability in the Rolls-Royce program at the moment as we see it,” Clark said.
After learning Clark’s comment, a Boeing spokesman said, “The safety and performance of our aircraft is our top priority. We are working closely with GE and Rolls-Royce as they resolve some challenges with their engines.”
An Airbus spokesman was not available for comment.
Clark is far from the only airline executive to express dismay at the current state of airplane and engine manufacturing, though Clark’s comments may have been the sharpest. Before he retired in July, Norwegian Air CEO Bjorn Kjos also regularly publicly criticized Rolls-Royce, blaming it in part for the airline’s financial woes.
Worldwide, airlines have been forced to ground airplanes for extra inspections or to change engines sooner than expected because of problems with Rolls-Royce engines on Boeing 787s. British Airways and Norwegian have been forced to charter jets from other operators in order to fly the schedule they promised to consumers.
Clark said he wonders why airlines keep going to Airbus and Boeing headquarters to pick up airplanes that are not as reliable as promised. Clark noted the manufacturers won’t let Emirates take the airplane “if there is one cent missing from the final payment” yet airlines are often willing to accept a machine they know has problems.
He said Emirates will do not do so any longer.
“Is that not unreasonable?” he asked. “We have 615 people on 15 or 20 of these [A380] aircraft that we own flying around, and if an engine doesn’t work or a part fails, they are stranded at Heathrow or Frankfurt or Auckland. The consequential damage to us is huge because I have to get rid of 615 passengers. I have to disperse them on other carriers, which I have to pay. I have to pay the punitive damages that the Europeans or New Zealand is imposing on us under their consumer protection legislation.”
Clark said the engine manufacturers often tell airlines to take jets with safe but flawed engines, promising the airline they will improve them later. Clark said a car buyer would never accept a car that wasn’t perfect on Day 1, and questioned why airlines are willing to do it.
“[It’s like] if you bought a Rolls Royce or a BMW and Audi or a Mercedes and the dealer told you, ‘I have to work with you because I need to pull out a load of data — we’ll do it all for you — but I have to change your engine after three months and I need to plug in and get all the stuff uploaded as you’re driving to make sure the engine is doing what we think it’s going to do, but I have to have my 250,000 pounds now and then I’ll work with you to ensure that the engine works eventually according to what you wanted,'” Clark said. “That’s probably the best analogy.”
Choosier Going Forward
For decades, Emirates was on a growth binge, seeking to quickly add long-haul routes. In doing so, Clark said, the airline may not have been as careful as it could have been in evaluating quality.
“In the pursuit of getting the job done in the past, given the growth trajectory that Emirates imposed upon itself, given the tools that we needed … we had to accept levels of technical excellence well below where they were,” he said.
Clark said he expects global travel demand soon will slow, and as it does, he said he expects more airlines will adopt his attitude toward new aircraft.
“When they don’t give me airplanes and engines that work, it’s over,” he said. “Now you produce what you say you produce. When we are ready, we’ll take it.”
This story was update with a comment from Boeing.
Subscribe to Skift newsletters covering the business of travel, restaurants, and wellness.