Second Middle East flag carrier poised to announce major Airbus and Boeing purchase at Le Bourget show

Qatar Airways is expected to unveil an order for 14 Airbus A330-200/300s and possibly a smaller number of Boeing 777-300ER widebody aircraft at the Paris air show, making it the second Middle Eastern carrier planning to announce a major split deal with the rival manufacturers.

The Qatar deal, if confirmed, follows on the heels of an order from neighbouring Emirates for 23 Airbus A380s, 10 A340-600s and 26 777-300ERs, also expected to be announced at the show (Flight International, 27 May-2 June). Qatar is planning a smaller purchase of 14 A330-200/300s, including one configured as a VIP transport, plus six options, and two 777-300ERs, plus eight options.

Of the two deals, the A330 purchase is understood to be the closest to being concluded, with the General Electric CF6-80E1 expected to be the engine of choice. The airline already operates three CF6-powered A330-300s and is thought to favour the GE/Pratt & Whitney Engine Alliance GP7200 for the four A380 orders and options it holds. With the first aircraft not due for delivery until 2008, a final decision is further off.

The 777-300ER deal is believed to involve International Lease Finance, but is not as solid as the A330 order, say sources. The aircraft would be the first new Boeing ordered by Qatar, which until now has operated only Airbus equipment. The GE90-115B-powered 777-300ER faces strong competition from the rival Rolls-Royce Trent 500-powered A340-600.

Although Boeing declines to comment, the airline's chief executive Akbar Al Baker earlier this year confirmed that negotiations were under way with Airbus and Boeing for a "large number" of new widebodies. Doha-based Qatar operates a mix of 21 Airbus aircraft on 38 routes, but plans to expand to serve 50 routes by 2005 with up to 45 aircraft.

Source: Flight International