DUBAI: Extensive Qatar Airbus order followed chaotic scenes

This story is sourced from Pro
See more Pro news »

Qatar Airways's outspoken chief, Akbar Al Baker, turned ringmaster in a Dubai circus after ordering Airbus A380s and A320neos just hours after calling off the announcement at the last minute over a legal row.

The airline is taking up to 80 A320neos - securing delivery of all three variants, and fitting the type with Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engines - as well as up to another eight A380s, which will be configured with 517 seats.

But Al Baker also lost patience with Airbus over a possible A330 freight conversion programme, and threatened to take Boeing 767 freighters instead. The airline ordered another pair of 777 freighters amid yesterday's shenanigans.

Al Baker said the airline is looking at taking 20-29 767s and would "dispose" of A330s in response, if they could not be converted. Airbus only offers a new-build A330-200 freighter, and delivered an example to MASkargo at Dubai yesterday.

"Unfortunately Airbus is not making up its mind on converting the A330," said Al Baker, who identified Singapore's ST Aero as a prospective conversion partner.

His swipe at the European airframer came during a Boeing press event which had already been preceded by farce as Qatar Airways and a Boeing entourage turned up in the same room that Airbus personnel were leaving, having seen their own Qatar event hastily cancelled.

"We thought we'd reach a very large [agreement] today," Al Baker said, before adding, caustically: "Unfortunately I think Airbus is still learning how to make airplanes."

He said the carrier had "reached an impasse" with Airbus over the extensive order, citing "sensitive" issues involving "bloody lawyers". But subsequent intervention by EADS, the airframer's parent, had been "pivotal" to rescuing the deal.

While the order problems were successfully overcome, Al Baker also warned that Airbus was rapidly using up Qatar Airways' planning margins for introducing the A350 into the Doha-based carrier's fleet, following the decision to delay the A350-900's entry into service until 2014.

The -900 is the first of the three-aircraft A350 family to go into production and Qatar Airways is the launch customer - as it is for the other two models, the -800 and -1000.

Al Baker insisted that a six-month delay on the new programme was "insignificant" but that the buffer had been used up and the carrier "cannot accept" additional programme hold-ups.

"Further delays would concern us," he said, because Qatar bases its fleet planning on being able to put aircraft into service immediately after delivery.

Al Baker also said his opinion on the A350-1000 "remains the same", following the type's redesign earlier this year, adding: "We are not happy."

He underlined the threat to the A350-1000 from Boeing's rival 777, stating that the carrier would be "very interested" in a "large number of aircraft" if the US airframer launched a new variant of the 777.

Al Baker said that, despite customer migration away from the shrunk A350-800, the type still had a place in the Qatar Airways network. "It's a class of aircraft we'd like to have because it gives us access to 10 long-range routes," he said.

While the carrier will take the A319neo, Al Baker said this did not exclude the Bombardier CSeries from its fleet. "We're still interested in the aircraft. It's a mission-specific aircraft," he said. "We're going to come back to talk with Bombardier."