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Inside the plane: Emirates’ $2 Billion Dollar Bet On Better Cabins

Emirates A380. Image: Emirates

Earlier this month, Emirates announced it had kick-started plans to upgrade the entire interior cabins of 120 Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 aircraft – two of the largest commercial aircraft types in service today. To call this plan ambitious is an understatement.

  • Full cabin refresh for 120 aircraft along with the installation of Premium Economy seats
  • Clockwork planning and testing begins to achieve turnaround time of 16 days per aircraft
These numbers are wild. Image: Emirates.

The airline has launched this multi-billion dollar programme “to ensure Emirates’ customers ‘fly better’ for the coming years.”

It officially begins in November and is managed entirely by Emirates’ Engineering team.

The target is to completely retrofit four Emirates aircraft from start to finish every month, continuously for over 2 years. The project’s planned completion date is in April 2025.

Once the 67 earmarked A380s are refreshed and back in service, 53 777s will undergo their facelift. We’re talking huge scope:

  • 4,000 new Premium Economy seats installed,
  • 728 First Class suites refurbished, and
  • Over 5,000 Business Class seats upgraded to a new style and design.
  • Carpets and stairs will be upgraded,
  • Cabin interior panels will be refreshed with new tones and design motifs, including the iconic ghaf trees native to the UAE.
Emirates’ New Premium Economy cabin was introduced on the A380. Image: Emirates

Emirates’ new Premium Economy cabin class, which offers luxurious seats, more legroom, and service to rival many airlines’ business offerings, is currently available to Emirates customers travelling on popular A380 routes to London, Paris, Sydney.

More customers will be able to experience the airline’s new Premium Economy cabins starting from year-end, as the retrofit programme picks up momentum.

No other airline has handled a retrofit of this magnitude in-house, and there’s no blueprint for such an undertaking. Therefore Emirates Engineering teams have been planning and testing extensively to establish and streamline processes, and identify and address any possible snags. 


Trials began on an A380 in July, where experienced engineers took each cabin apart piece-by-piece and logged every step. From removing seats and panelling to bolts and screws, every action was tested, timed and mapped out. Potential impediments to completing the installation of Emirates’ new Premium Economy Class or the retrofit of the remaining three cabins in just 16 days were flagged and documented for expert teams to review and address.


During the trials, Engineers discovered several unexpected logistics solutions. For example, they found that existing food catering trucks could be easily repurposed to move parts destined for refurbishment from the aircraft to the workshop for their refresh, as these vehicles had doors of the right width and offered sufficient space.

Until the retrofit programme starts in earnest in November, a cross-disciplinary team has been assembled to regularly review the planning process, address any issues, and track updates on various aspects of the project, such as procurement, staffing, and training.

To complete this programme, Emirates Engineering has set up new purpose-built workshops to repaint, re-trim, and re-upholster Business and Economy Class seats with new covers and cushioning. First Class suites will be carefully disassembled and sent to a specialised company to replace the leather, arm rests and other materials. 

This is one of the advantages to Emirates of embarking on this very ambitious venture. They are setting up more interiors completion capabilities in-house, which might help them compete in the future as a completion services provider. Whether or not that is intended, it would be a good opportunity for Emirates to earn back that $2 billion investment in the fleet, and more.

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