Akbar Al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, used the 2007 Dubai air show to announce his airline's selection of the Boeing 787. Five years later - two more than planned because of production and development delays to Boeing's Dreamliner - the head of the Doha-based carrier is at another show, Farnborough, to show off his acquisition.
Al Baker put pen to paper on a $13.5 billion order for 30 firm 787-8s, plus 27 firm orders for 777s, at the Dubai show. The carrier has a further 30 options for 787s and the ability to switch these to the larger -9 and the proposed -10 variant if it chooses. The 787s will be powered by GEnx engines.
© Qatar Airways
Qatar's debut 787 fresh from the paint shop
When it became clear that the timing of the delivery of Qatar's first 787 would be on the eve of Farnborough 2012, Al Baker instantly knew he wanted to couple his airline's strong presence at one of the industry's most significant shows with the big reveal of the 787.
"The impending arrival of the Boeing 787 in Qatar Airways colours is the highlight of 2012 for us, being the first new aircraft type inducted into the airline's fleet since our maiden Boeing 777 arrived in Doha in 2007," he said at the Arabian Travel Market earlier this year.
At the EBACE business aviation show in mid-May, he confirmed his first 787 would feature at Farnborough, not only on the static display but, remarkably, in the flying display as well.
Persuading Boeing to supply an aircraft in the flying display demonstrates Al Baker's rising stature in the airline business. The US airframer has shunned participation in air show displays - other than flying aircraft into a show for the static display - for more than a decade.
Indeed, the last time Boeing flew an airliner at one of the big two shows was its 100-seat 717-200 at Paris in 1999.
"While Boeing hasn't taken part in flying displays at air shows in quite a while, this opportunity at Farnborough allows as many people as possible to experience the gracefulness of the 787," Boeing's marketing vice-president Randy Tinseth explains in his blog. Pictures of Qatar's first 787 on Boeing's Everett factory flight line appeared on 20 June, and the aircraft made its successful maiden flight five days later.
After its Farnborough debut, the aircraft will return to the factory to get its connectivity features installed, says Al Baker. Qatar's 787s will feature wi-fi throughout the cabin and passengers will be able to send text messages. But, it is disabling the ability for passengers to make voice calls to minimise disruption to travellers.
© APG photo
Qatar's 787 performs at the Farnborough air show
With 22 business-class seats, newly and exclusively designed by B/E Aerospace for the carrier, and an economy class with 232 seats designed by Recaro, Qatar Airways has used the arrival of the 787 to introduce a completely fresh interior look and feel.
"The 787 aircraft architecture is such that a lot of attention has been placed by Boeing on spacious cabins, which we are maximising to ensure our passengers get what they pay for - value for money and a great travel experience," said Al Baker at the unveiling of the new seats at the ITB Berlin travel show in March.
Qatar Airways is taking a different route with its business-class cabin compared with the first three 787 operators: All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines and Air India. These carriers have a standard 2-2-2 business-class configuration, whereas Qatar Airways has a 1-2-1 layout. This brings the number of seats down to 22, compared with 46 at ANA and 42 for JAL, but each passenger has direct aisle access.
The carrier has done away with a first-class cabin across its fleet in favour of delivering a top-notch business-class product. "Why pay for first class when you can have first-class comfort on Qatar Airways with business-class fares?" asks Al Baker. The only aircraft that will feature a first class is the Airbus A380s the carrier has on order, he adds.
Qatar Airways is expected to reveal more details of the routes the 787s will fly at Farnborough. The carrier, which is launch customer for the Dreamliner in the Middle East, will operate it on intra-Gulf services to aid training before the aircraft changes to longer-range routes.
But, it has announced it will operate the 787 on its flagship Doha−London service from August. Last year, in a special Flightglobal 787 supplement, Al Baker explained that the 787 is seen as "an excellent route-development tool" and that Qatar Airways will use its fleet initially to develop new European points with widebody capacity that could not be economically sustained with its existing widebody types.
"The 787-8 has been acquired primarily as an A330-200 replacement but may also replace the A321 on some denser, short-haul routes," Al Baker says. By year's end, the Qatar Airways fleet of 787s will have grown to five aircraft.