Qatar Airways may drop plan to buy Airbus A350 due to uncertainty over twinjet's future

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By Max Kingsley-Jones in Doha

Airbus could lose its largest and most prominent A350 customer, Qatar Airways, because of its indecision over the aircraft’s configuration and the likelihood that it will adopt an all-new design.

The Qatari flag carrier – currently an all-Airbus operator – last year became the lead A350 customer when it announced at the Paris air show that it intended to order 60 of the twinjets for delivery from 2010 after an evaluation that included the rival Boeing 787. Although the airline later began to firm up the deal by signing a letter of intent for the 60 aircraft, it has held off signing a contract until Airbus finalises the aircraft’s performance and specification, says Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker.

Confirmation by Airbus of its expected rethink would see the A330-based A350 design replaced by an all-new larger aircraft with a wider fuselage and larger wing.This would have an entry-into-service target up to two years later than previously planned. 

airbus a350 qatar w445
© Airbus / 3Mi


“We are launch customer for an aircraft that, other than its model number, does not now exist. Qatar Airways is very unhappy about this,” says Al Baker. He questions how Airbus will “address this issue with A350 customers who have placed deposits”.

Airbus chief executive Gustav Humbert said at last week’s ILA show that the A350 timetable would “depend on the changes we do”. Referring to customers who have already signed up to the aircraft, he said: “If you will get a better aircraft than you have ordered, then you will be happy.”

Al Baker says that in light of the development, Qatar “might be forced to re-evaluate the 787 and could get preferential delivery dates from Boeing”. Qatar Airways’ repeated requests since selecting the A350 in June last year that Airbus should revise the design have been “vindicated” by the manufacturer’s expected U-turn, says Al Baker. “The trouble is, Airbus has lost a year.” He says he expects Airbus to be able to show him a firm specification for the new design “by early June”.

The new A350’s delayed in-service date gives Qatar Airways some capacity headaches, so it is discussing the acquisition of A330/A340s or Boeing 777-200LR/300ERs.