The biggest buyers of the Airbus A380, A350 and Boeing 777X, 777 (and second largest airline customer for 787) are all concentrated within an hour of one another. Emirates airline, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways have long punched far above their rising weight, wielding disproportionate influence on Boeing and Airbus’s most high-profile projects and swelling their order books along the way.
The superjumbo A380 is the poster child of Emirates’ global reach with 109 flying at the airline. And the coming 777X is defined as it is thanks to the trio’s geography. A requirement for sporty performance in 120-degree Fahrenheit Gulf heat drove the sizing of everything from the jet’s engine to the wing and landing gear. Boeing was rewarded handsomely: Seventy-five percent of the 326 777X aircraft on order are from the three Gulf carriers.
Their rapidly-expanding fleets fueled travel to and through Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi and their global ambitions tormented U.S. and European carriers who saw their gains as ill gotten.
Now, falling oil prices, congested airspace, limited space on the ground at Dubai International and the unfinished Dubai World Central have all weighed on Emirates’ expansion plans. And bad bets on equity partners in Italy, Germany and India have scuttled Etihad’s grand plans, too. And all of that was before the U.A.E.’s costly involvement in the bitter war alongside Saudi Arabia against Yemen and a regional blockade of Qatar that only dragged regional tourism down further.
The Middle East’s aviation-driven growth has been caught in the undertow. Now, the other shoe is starting to drop.
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