By AYA BATRAWY and JON GAMBRELL
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Middle East's largest airline, Emirates, announced Thursday it struck a deal with Airbus to purchase 20 A380 aircraft with the option to buy 16 more in a deal worth $16 billion, throwing a lifeline to the European-made double-decker jumbo jets.
The Dubai-based Emirates already has 101 A380s in its fleet and 41 more on order, making it the largest operator of the jumbo jet.
"This new order underscores Airbus' commitment to produce the A380 at least for another ten years," said Airbus chief salesman John Leahy.
Emirates Chairman and Chief Executive Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum said the order "will provide stability to the A380 production line."
Al Maktoum and Leahy made the comments in a statement after the deal was signed in Dubai on Thursday morning.
Emirates, which is owned by the Dubai government in the United Arab Emirates, said the additional A380s will be delivered to the airliner from 2020 onwards and that some of the new A380s will be used as fleet replacements.
Leahy had warned only three days earlier that if the company couldn't work out a deal with Emirates, it would have to shut down the superjumbo's production line. Airbus has spent years and billions developing the double-decker jumbo jet, even as skeptics questioned whether it could generate enough demand to justify its cost and the bigger runways it requires.
An Airbus A380 has a list price of $445.6 million, but airlines and manufacturers often negotiate lower prices.
Airbus delivered just 15 of the planes last year, and aims to deliver 12 more this year.
Leahy told reporters Monday that Emirates is the only airline with the ability to commit to a minimum of six planes a year for a minimum of eight to 10 years, or what is needed to make the Airbus program viable.
"It's positive news for both sides," airline analyst John Strickland of JLS Consulting said. "The A380 is critical to Emirates' hub-and-growth strategy and equally the airline is key to Airbus' continuation of the program. It will be a great relief to Airbus to have secured this order, but they have to work aggressively to secure orders from other airlines too now."
Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said the deal reflects Emirates' commitment to advancing "Dubai's vision to grow further as a world-class destination and aviation hub." Dubai's main airport, where Emirates is based, is among the busiest in the world with more than 80 million travelers passing through in 2016.
Airbus tweeted news of the deal, saying it was "glad to announce" Emirates' commitment to the A380.
Shares in Airbus rose on the news of the deal, gaining 2.2 percent on the day, to 91.67 euros in Paris.
At Dubai's biennial Air Show in November, Airbus suffered an embarrassment when it was scheduled to announce it had a struck a deal with Emirates for its A380, only to see Boeing sit on the podium with the airline and sign a $15.1 billion deal.
Emirates' fleet relies solely on the Airbus 380 and the Boeing 777 for its flights.
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