Gulf airline set to acquire more Airbuses for passenger and corporate use and invites bids for long-haul aircraft

Qatar Airways is gearing up for a major expansion of its Airbus fleet, including acquiring additional passenger and corporate aircraft. The deals, which are understood to include an A340-500 in VIP configuration, are part of plans to double in size to over 30 aircraft as Qatar repositions to become the second largest carrier in the region, after Emirates, following Gulf Air's problems.

The Doha-based carrier took delivery of the second of five Airbus A330-200s it has on order at the show, and has firmed up two of its three remaining options for the aircraft. Two more A330s are due this year, with the remainder of the initial batch scheduled in 2003. The final option is due to be confirmed later this year.

A single A319 Corporate Jetliner (ACJ) has been in service with the airline since last year, operating VIP charters and flights for the Qatari royal family. Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of the Qatari flag carrier, says negotiations are under way to buy a second ACJ by year-end.

According to industry sources, it has also ordered a corporate A340-500 for delivery in 2004. Qatar Airways operates a VIP-configured A340-200 for the royal family, and a corporate A320 and the ACJ.

Al Baker says negotiations are being completed to firm up its four A380 commitments, and that five more widebodies will be required in the longer term: "As we expand further we will look for additional lift."

The airline is expected to issue a request for proposals to Airbus and Boeing by year-end for an aircraft in the 300-380 seat category. A decision is expected by mid-2003, with deliveries beginning by 2006.

The airline's 17-strong fleet will increase to "well over" 30 aircraft within two to three years, says Al Baker. Deliveries of its seven remaining A320 orders and options have just been accelerated. Talks are under way for more aircraft.

Qatar Airways has purchased an ex-Korean Air A300-600R for its cargo arm. This will be delivered next May after cargo conversion by EADS-EFW in Germany. This will be supplemented by the conversion of two of its own A300-600Rs.

Expansion comes on the heels of the Qatar government's decision this year to abandon loss-making Gulf Air, which is also owned by the governments of Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Oman. With Emirates now the number one airline in the Gulf, Qatar Airways is positioning itself to be the second force.

Source: Flight International