By Max Kingsley-Jones  in London

Qatar Airways is expected to announce shortly the finalisation of its large-widebody expansion plans, with the firming up of the major deal for 20 Boeing 777s that it first revealed last year.

According to industry sources, the airline confirmed its order over a month ago for 14 777-300ERs and six -200LRs. Deliveries are expected to start by 2008. It is not clear if the deal includes additional options.

qatar A340-600HGW
© French Frogs Airslides 

Qatar Airways is about to receive its first A340-600HGWs, but has chosen the 777 for its long-term needs

The order is currently listed on Boeing’s website as for an undisclosed customer. Sources say a formal announcement of the order by the Doha-based airline is imminent. The carrier declines to comment on the deal.

Qatar Airways’ decision to place its first Boeing order comes after a long running evaluation that included the Airbus A330/A340. The airline is a major operator of the A330 with 21 in service, and is poised to be the launch operator of the A340-600 high gross-weight (HGW) version. The first of four -600HGWs that Qatar Airways has on order is due for delivery in July.

Plans to order 20 777s were first announced by Qatar Airways at last year’s Paris air show when it also revealed its commitment to acquire 60 A350s. However, in the intervening period, the A330/A340 has been re-evaluated after Emirates’ decision to defer its order for 18 A340-600HGWs resulted in an unsolicited offer from Airbus of some of the delivery positions, say sources.

Qatar Airways is now believed to have rejected that offer and gone ahead with the 777 order. In the meantime the airline has been vocal in its dissatisfaction with Airbus over the possible two year delay to the A350 entry-into-service target from 2010 to 2012, if the aircraft undergoes a redesign as is widely expected. Further details on the new A350 are expected to emerge at Farnborough.

Source: Flight International