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Qatar's focus on large twins keeps A380s on hold

Qatar Airways is not looking to firm up any of its Airbus A380 options, as it prepares to put its first A350-1000 into service.

The airline ordered 10 A380s and, by the end of January, had taken delivery of nine.

Qatar also has options on additional aircraft. But chief executive Akbar Al Baker, speaking during the A350-1000 handover, said: "For the time being we do not have an intention to firm up the three [options]."

The carrier uses the 461-seat A380 on routes to London Heathrow, Bangkok, Guangzhou, Paris and Sydney.

But its long-haul capacity development over the next few years will centre on twinjets.

The operator's first A350-1000 (A7-ANA) landed at its base on 21 February following a delivery flight from Toulouse.

It will conduct its first service with the aircraft, to London Heathrow, on 24 February, but Qatar will use the variant on flights to the US eastern seaboard as well as Australasia. Al Baker says the -1000 fits "exactly" into its route network.

The -1000 is configured with 327 seats including the airline's tailored 'Qsuite' cabin – the first -1000 brings the number of Qatar aircraft with this cabin to 16.

While installation of the Qsuite had forced postponement of the -1000's delivery, Al Baker points out that the fitting has been a "very complex" programme.

"It's very difficult to install any new system in any new aircraft," he says.

Qatar expects to receive around six -1000s this year. It has orders for 37 of the variant, as well as 60 for the new Boeing 777X.

Airbus head of marketing Francois Caudron is unfazed by Qatar's dampened enthusiasm for the A380, pointing out that rival Emirates' extended order gives the airframer a period to secure further orders.

"Clearly the market reaction isn't as prompt as we'd like it to be," he says.

But he reiterates Airbus's argument that passenger traffic will more than double over the next 20 years, and that 70% of this growth will come from the existing network.

Some carriers are starting to "open their eyes", he believes, suggesting that Chinese airlines in particular are facing issues of airspace congestion.

"Were we over-optimistic? Probably, yes," he says, regarding A380 forecasts. But he is confident that there will be a "slow and steady" growth in the A380 market.

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