DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The head of Emirates said Tuesday the fast-growing airline will not delay any orders for new aircraft through at least 2011, and should turn a profit even as the global downturn erodes demand for global air travel.

Emirates, the biggest hauler of international passengers outside Europe and the United States, is the world’s top buyer of the double-decker Airbus A380 and an important customer for Chicago-based Boeing Co. It expects to take delivery of 17 new planes — mostly A380s and Boeing 777s — in the fiscal year that began last month.

Speaking in an interview Tuesday, Sheik Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum, Emirates’ chairman and chief executive, said the carrier expects to post a profit in the fiscal year that ended in March 31. He did not say how much the gain would be.

“We hope we’ll still do well this year,” Sheik Ahmed said. “I would say we will be positive,” he added later.

Dubai, one of seven semiautonomous sheikdoms that make up the UAE, owns the carrier and sees it as a vital driver of development. Sheik Ahmed is an uncle of Dubai’s ruler and plays an active role in the city-state’s government.

The airline is facing increasing competition from well-funded carriers in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, such as Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways, which is based in the nearby federal capital of Abu Dhabi and calls itself the UAE’s national airline.

There has been widespread speculation that Emirates might consider a possible merger with the far smaller Etihad, particularly as Dubai’s financial problems have mounted. Both carriers have issued statements denying a tie-up was in the works — a sentiment Sheik Ahmed reiterated Tuesday.

“We’ve never been in any discussions whatsoever with Etihad in terms of (a) merger,” he said.

Sheik Ahmed also ruled out the possibility that Emirates might seek to accelerate its expansion in the near future by buying up another airline.

“I don’t think it is the right time,” he said.