- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) - Emirates, the biggest customer for Airbus’ A380 “superjumbo,” said Sunday it still has confidence in the jetliner despite some concerns about its reliability.

The Middle East’s largest carrier also said it is in talks with the European plane maker about the timing of deliveries for future A380s, but insists it has financing in place for all aircraft purchases until next summer.

Dubai-based Emirates, one of just three airlines currently operating the A380, said it recently met with Airbus executives “to give them feedback on the A380’s reliability performance, including various technical issues which we had identified during our operations.”

The airline declined to provide a copy of a document shared with Airbus detailing concerns about the plane. It said it has a “good relationship” with Airbus and is working closely with the plane manufacturer.

“Technical issues are expected with new aircraft _ particularly one that uses many new technologies. Naturally, as the airline operator, we want these to be resolved as soon as possible,” the company said.

The carrier was responding to questions about a report in the forthcoming edition of German magazine Der Spiegel that said Emirates took a 46-page set of slides to what the publication called a “crisis meeting” between the two companies outlining maintenance problems with the aircraft.

The airline, which has received four of the 58 A380s it has on order, is also talking with Toulouse, France-based Airbus about when it will receive additional A380s.

French media reports have said Airbus is seeking to delay delivery of some of the planes.

A representative for the airline said the carrier is standing by an announcement last month that it will add seven A380s to its fleet in the coming fiscal year, which begins April 1. The timing for orders beyond that is uncertain.

The representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with company policy, said concerns about the A380 and the delivery review are “not linked.”

Questions about Emirates’ ability to fund its aggressive growth plans have grown louder in recent months because of tighter credit markets and a drop in global air travel. Concerns about the emirate of Dubai’s large debt load have also dogged the government-owned airline.

The carrier declined to make officials available to comment about its financial health Sunday, saying it was too close to the end of the fiscal year, which ends this month.

Emirates did say, however, that its “financial fundamentals are solid” and that it has “financial commitments in place for all our aircraft deliveries until summer 2010”

“The next year is not going to be an easy ride for the airline industry and ‘consolidation’ is a word we will hear used quite a lot. Emirates has prepared the best we can for the challenges we foresee,” the airline said in an e-mailed statement.

“We are closely reviewing our fleet and network operations, and are concentrating on strengthening our presence on routes where there is a greater demand from our customers,” the company added.

Emirates said last month it expects to boost the number of flights it offers overall by 14 percent this year. It recently announced plans to reduce service to China.

Hania Tabet, a spokeswoman for Airbus in Dubai, declined to comment on the status of Emirates’ orders but said Airbus remains committed to delivering 18 A380s to its customers this year.

“Delivery schedules are agreed with the customer and we respect confidentiality,” she said.

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