• Al Baker says engine issue may let him `walk away' from order
  • Low oil may spur follow-on contract for three superjumbos

Qatar Airways said it could soon give up on Airbus Group SE’s revamped A320neo jetliner if Pratt & Whitney fails to resolve a cooling issue with the plane’s engines, erasing a 2011 order worth a potential $6.4 billion to the manufacturer.

Delivery delays requested by Qatar Air because of the hitch, which means planes must sometimes be idled to get the turbines to the right temperature, are approaching the point where it has the right to “walk away” or take alternative powerplants, Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker said Wednesday at the ITB travel show in Berlin.

Akbar Al Baker at the ITB travel trade show in Berlin, on March 9.
Akbar Al Baker at the ITB travel trade show in Berlin, on March 9.
Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Al Baker, known for his tough bargaining with Airbus and Boeing Co. and a reluctance to accept ordered aircraft until they’re performing perfectly, queried whether Pratt properly tested the engines for “hot and high” running, and added that he’ll need cast-iron performance guarantees before taking a plane for which his company was due to be the initial customer.

Qatar Air needs the A320neo to serve markets such at the Seychelles from December, Al Baker said. Should the issue prove insurmountable, it could potentially switch its contract for 50 planes and 30 options to jets powered by the CFM International venture of General Electric Co. and Safran SA, though first deliveries aren’t due until next year.

A380 Options

IndiGo, India’s largest airline, has also declined to take the Pratt-powered plane, leasing in aircraft instead. Both it and Qatar Air are especially sensitive to the cooling issue because of the hot climates in which the generally operate -- unlike Deutsche Lufthansa AG, which took the first Neo in January.

Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp., said at a briefing last month that it’s working on “minor changes” to the PW1100G engine, which can suffer bowing due to uneven cooling that causes some parts to rub together.

Running air through affected units for three minutes is sufficient to get them to the right temperature -- something Qatar Air has said it’s not prepared to do.

Al Baker dangled the possibility of taking three more A380 double-deckers by converting existing options if the oil price stays below $60 a barrel, making an eventual fleet of 13. The carrier has six of the aircraft in operation, with four more due for delivery that it deferred when fuel costs were rising.

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