Emirates has entered into a memorandum of understanding with Airbus for a purchase of up to 36 A380 aircraft, a deal that provides a lifeline to the aerospace giant's jumbo jet program.

Emirates has committed to purchasing 20 of the world's largest passenger aircraft and has an option on 16 more. If Emirates buys all 36, the deal is worth about $16 billion. Deliveries are to begin in 2020.

The order came just three days after Airbus' outgoing sales chief John Leahy acknowledged during a web presentation that the company would have to shut down the A380 program if this latest order didn't come through.

Airbus took no orders on the A380 in 2017 and plans to cut production to eight aircraft a year by next year, down from 27 in 2015.

Leahy said during an interview with Bloomberg TV on Monday that he believes sales of the jumbo aircraft will take off in the mid-2020s as the skies get more crowded and more airports begin to run out of landing slots. Until then, however, Airbus needs a base of at least six A380 orders per year to break even on the program.

Emirates is by far the most prolific customer of the A380. Of the 317 A380 orders Airbus had taken as of the end of 2017, 142 were from Emirates. The carrier's current fleet of 101 A380s accounts for 45% of all the A380 deliveries Airbus has made.

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