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Confirmed orders and new planes reveal Qatar’s focus

Qatar: Wednesday, October 04 - 2006 @ 12:04

Reports in recent weeks had speculated about the possible cancellation of a $5 billion deal with Boeing to buy 20 of its 777 aircraft, comprising 14 extended range and six long range models.

But Qatar’s CEO Akbar Al Baker confirmed the order last month and at the same time, significantly, gave his backing to the airline’s huge order from Airbus which includes 60 A350s, a model that has required a major revamp this year.

Boost for Boeing

The crisis currently affecting Airbus has certainly given Boeing good reason to feel content but securing a meaty 20 plane order from Qatar, an otherwise exclusively Airbus carrier, will improve the mood even more. Indeed, Boeing is having a good year full stop: it has booked well over 600 orders so far and is outselling Airbus by nearly three to one.

Qatar’s order will begin arriving late next year and should be complete by 2010. It appears that Qatar will use the extended range version to provide extra capacity on slot restricted routes, while the 777-300LRs will fly to projected new North American and Australasian destinations.

World’s longest passenger jet

On the same day the Boeing order was rubber-stamped, Qatar Airways took delivery, as launch customer, of the high gross weight version of the Airbus A340-600 which, at 75 metres long, is the world’s longest passenger jet. The 266 seat aircraft is capable of flying for 14 hours non-stop with a full load of passengers and cargo.

Qatar is very keen to break into the US market as soon as it can and, like the B777, the A340-600 is well suited to working such long haul routes. Qatar is optimistic it will shortly get clearance to fly to New York but, for now, the plane has been allocated to the key Doha-London Heathrow service. The airline has ordered ten A340-600s over the next two years, with an option for more, and the second, Qatar Airway’s 50th aircraft in total, is due to arrive in the very near future.

Airbus uncertainties

Just over a week after the new A340-600 was unveiled to the media, Qatar revealed that it is to lease six more Airbus aircraft from CIT Aerospace. The order consists of one A320 and five A321-200s; the planes will arrive in 2007 and 2008 and will help to further facilitate Qatar’s aggressive expansion plans.

But one potential problem for Qatar is its huge order of 60 mid-sized A350s. Airbus has completely redesigned the aircraft and it has morphed into the extra wide body A350 XWB. The revamp was an attempt to make the A350 a strong alternative to Boeing’s popular 787 Dreamliner which has booked well over 350 orders. But the redesign has set back the plane’s launch and it is now expected around two years later than planned.

Akbar Al Baker clearly stated last month that Qatar remained committed to its $10 billion Airbus order and said he was optimistic the planes would arrive on time, considering the penalties that Airbus would need to pay for late delivery. Initially, the airline hoped to begin receiving the planes in 2010, but 2012 is now far more likely.

Airbus is consumed by the technical problems affecting its A380 superjumbo, the deliveries of which are now scheduled to be almost two years late, and if there should be any further knock-on effect from this on the A350 project, then Qatar may seriously consider its options.

The airline is determined to grow massively over the next ten years and it had anticipated doing that with a predominantly Airbus fleet. But if the French firm continues to haemorrhage problems and setbacks, then the 777s might not be the only aircraft Qatar orders from Boeing.

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Wednesday, October 4- 2006 @ 12:04 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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