FARNBOROUGH: Qatar fires warning shot at Airbus over A330 conversions

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Qatar Airways is urging Airbus to quickly decide on its A330 cargo conversion strategy or risk losing its business to Boeing.

The airframer is apparently holding off from launching a conversion for fear of cannibalising the market for the new-build A330-200 Freighter.

The Doha-based airline is eager to conclude a deal to convert its older A330-200 passenger aircraft to freighters as they are replaced by 787s, the first of which is due to arrive in the second half of 2011.

The converted A330s would be operated by Qatar Airways' cargo arm, or placed with its newly created leasing arm, says chief executive Akbar Al Baker.

"We are talking to Airbus about conversions and if we have no option from them, then we will have to look to Boeing to supply us converted freighters, either 777-200s or 767s, and I'm sure Boeing will oblige," he says.

Although Airbus has proposed a "P2F" passenger-to-freighter conversion of the A330-300, its official line about the smaller -200 model is that there is insufficient "feedstock" of aircraft to justify a launch.

Qatar Airways has a fleet of 16 A330-200s and is keen to start putting them through conversion, and Al Baker believes Airbus "are dragging their feet so customers have no alternative but to buy the new-build -200F, but we're not going to".

He also says Airbus has a "resource problem", which is why it is still looking at finding ways to do the conversion, which would be undertaken by EADS' EFW division in Dresden, Germany.

Qatar is steadily growing its cargo fleet, which currently comprises three converted A300-600Fs and two new-build 777Fs, plus one on order. However Al Baker says the cost of new-build freighters is prohibitive to building a large fleet, so the airline is focused on converted aircraft for its growth. "We have an undertaking from Airbus that they decide in the last quarter of this year," he says.