PARIS — Airbus suffered a major blow to its latest commercial jet program on Wednesday after one of its largest customers, Emirates Airlines, said it had decided to cancel a multibillion-dollar order for 70 long-range planes.
The news comes months before the new jet, the A350-XWB, is due to enter service, prompting some analysts to wonder whether the decision by Emirates could presage a slowdown in aircraft orders from Persian Gulf carriers.
Those airlines have been among the most voracious buyers in recent years of wide-body planes from both Airbus and Boeing.
In a statement, Airbus said that Emirates would not take the planes — 50 of a 300-seat model, the A350-900, and 20 of the larger A350-1000 jets — which had been slated for delivery beginning in 2019.
The Emirates order was valued at roughly $16 billion when it was placed in 2007; at current list prices, it would be worth more than $21 billion.
The reasons for the decision by Emirates were not immediately clear.
Howard Wheeldon, an independent consultant and a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, said: “This is about the industry, not the aircraft.
“It seems to suggest that Emirates might be realizing that they looked a bit too far forward in terms of their expectations that traffic growth would continue on the same level as the past five years,” Wheeldon added.
Some analysts were hesitant to view the cancellations solely in the context of a possible regional slowdown. Saj Ahmad, the chief analyst for StrategicAero Research in London, noted that the carrier had expressed disappointment that the A350 did not compare more favorably against rival Boeing jets in terms of range and fuel consumption.
“There’s no escaping the fact that this is a disaster for Airbus to lose a key customer,” Ahmad said. “If there had been a partial cancellation, that would have been palatable.”
The A350, a twin-engine wide-body jet, is Airbus’s first all-new plane in six years.