In the past few years, there has been periodic speculation about Emirates potentially ordering the Boeing (NYSE:BA) 787 Dreamliner to complement its fleet of larger widebodies.

Last week, several news outlets reported that an Emirates Dreamliner purchase was a "done deal", with Emirates set to order a mix of 787-9s and 787-10s at the Dubai Airshow this fall. An Emirates Dreamliner order would be a big coup for Boeing, potentially allowing it to increase its production again.

A rendering of the 787-10 Dreamliner

Is Emirates about to order Boeing's Dreamliner? Image source: Boeing.

However, these stories were based on a single unconfirmed analyst report from Saj Ahmad of Strategic Aero Research. It certainly seems logical that Emirates would choose to order 787s at some point -- perhaps even this year. Nevertheless, this is far from being a done deal.

Emirates teases a Boeing 787 order

Three years ago, Emirates canceled its order for 70 Airbus (OTC:EADSY) A350 wide-body jets. The carrier claimed that it was no longer sure it needed the A350 due to changes in the A350-1000 model's specifications, as well as its own shifting fleet requirements.

Soon thereafter, Emirates CEO Tim Clark started talking about holding a new competition between Airbus' A350 and Boeing's 787. The winning plane would slot in below Emirates' fleet of Boeing 777s. Originally, Emirates planned to decide by the end of 2015, but it subsequently postponed the decision deadline to 2016 and then to 2017.

Given that Emirates previously canceled its A350 order, Boeing appears to have an advantage in the 787 vs. A350 competition. Still, investors shouldn't ignore the possibility that Airbus will pull off an upset.

The Airbus A350-900

Emirates canceled its Airbus A350 order in 2014. Image source: Airbus.

A bumpy flight at Emirates

Emirates still says that it wants to choose between the 787 and A350 this year, but the timeline has already shifted twice in the past couple of years. The company could easily delay its decision again.

Emirates has been posting weak financial results lately, so caution is certainly warranted. For its most recent fiscal year (which ended in March), Emirates' profit plunged 83%. Emirates will probably continue to face downward pressure on fares due to low-cost long-haul airlines' explosive growth. The carrier also cut some flights to the U.S. after the so-called "laptop ban" was implemented earlier this year.

The U.S. government recently lifted the laptop ban for Dubai International Airport, Emirates' home base. But rising competition could continue to weigh on the company's results for the foreseeable future. As a result, it's not clear that Emirates urgently needs additional planes. It might make sense to wait another year or two to see how the competitive environment evolves.

An Emirates 787 order would be great news for Boeing

In recent years, Emirates has become the No. 1 buyer of wide-body jets in the world. Airbus and Boeing are particularly eager to win its business because the market for wide-body jets has been sluggish lately.

Boeing got off to a strong start in 2017, with 75 firm 787 family orders in the first half of the year. An Emirates deal for 70 planes would allow Boeing to match its projected 787 delivery total for the current year (145 units). This would at least ensure that Boeing's Dreamliner order backlog does not shrink in 2017.

Yet even a 70-plane Emirates order would not be sufficient by itself to support Boeing's plan to boost 787 family production from 12/month to 14/month in 2019 or thereabouts. To sustain a 14/month production rate for at least a few years, Boeing would need to be selling planes at the same rate (or faster).

In other words, signing a big Dreamliner deal with Emirates is a necessary condition for Boeing to raise production in the coming years -- but Boeing will also need to find other buyers to fill out its order book.

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