Qatar Airways has hinted strongly that it would opt for an all-new Boeing narrowbody over the Airbus A320neo, as it edges towards a deal to acquire the Bombardier CSeries.
The carrier - which operates 32 A320-family aircraft - says the airline plans to operate two types of narrowbodies, but chief executive Akbar Al Baker is sceptical about the Airbus offering.
"In my frank opinion, Airbus is making the same mistake with the Neo as with the old A350," he says, referring to the previous A350 - a re-engined version of the A330 - as "an old lady dressed up in new clothes".
Airbus abandoned its original A350 proposals in 2006 after pressure from potential customers, including Qatar, for a more radical design.
Qatar rewarded the airframer with commitments for 80 of the new A350 XWB, which Al Baker describes as a "very fine airplane, thanks in part to Qatar Airways".
The A320neo, by contrast, is a "strategy by [Airbus chief salesman] John Leahy to kill the CSeries", says Al Baker. Although the Neo would allow Qatar to operate longer routes than the CSeries, he says, the Bombardier narrowbody is "a killer of an airplane" on flights up to 3.5h, with "far superior" seat mile costs to the Neo.
Qatar Airways is closing on a deal to take CSeries after coming close to resolving long-running issues with engine supplier Pratt & Whitney over maintenance cost guarantees.
Al Baker says talks with Bombardier are "very advanced" adding, with regard to the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G geared turbofan engine, that there have been "slight issues which are nearly resolved".
He says: "We are progressing with putting the next phase of the business case to the [Qatar Airways] board and expect a decision in the very near future."
On longer sectors, customers are resistent to flying on single-aisle aircraft, something Al Baker says the airline has learned from operating A320s to Berlin and Vienna. "It is a difficult sell to passengers," he says.
As well as the A350 XWB, Qatar Airways has ordered or taken options on 60 Boeing 787s, the first of which is due to arrive in the first quarter of next year. Its first A350XWBs are earmarked for end of 2013 delivery.
Source: Air Transport Intelligence news