Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

Qatar’s Airbus Deal Not Dead as Some 737s Set for New Partner

  • A320neo may take two years to prove credentials, Al Baker says
  • Slow delivery of A350s was partly behind 777 purchase

Qatar Airways said some of the 60 737 Max jetliners it ordered this month from Boeing Co. are destined for another carrier the Gulf operator is buying, and that Airbus Group SE still has time to rescue a $6.4 billion deal for the competing A320neo model.

“The 737 is for us to grow our narrow-bodies and at the same time for our investment in another carrier,” Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker said in an interview, adding that Airbus must prove the troubled Neo’s credentials in-service if he’s to cease canceling planes as they’re due for handover.

Qatar Air has refused to take the revamped A320 after cooling issues with the jet’s Pratt & Whitney engines compromised its performance in hot conditions. Though Pratt says it has developed a fix, Al Baker delivered a blow to Airbus on Oct. 7 when he announced a $6.9 billion deal for the Max 8, marking his company’s first narrow-body order from Boeing since 1979.

That doesn’t mean Qatar Air’s 50-plane Neo deal is dead, though a temporary solution to its problems isn’t sufficient, the CEO said Thursday in Amsterdam.

“When you put a bandage on a big wound that doesn’t mean it is fixed,” he said. “I have to be convinced that it is. I want others to operate and convince me it is OK.” That could take a year or two, he added.

While Al Baker didn’t specify which other carrier might get some of the Max planes, Qatar Air agreed the purchase of a 49 stake in Meridiana SpA of Italy in July and said at the time it intended to help renew a fleet that includes 30-year-old McDonnell Douglas MD-80-series aircraft.

A350 Headache

The Boeing jets will be delivered starting next year and Qatar is negotiating to take some current-generation 737s in the interim, he said.

The CEO said Airbus is still struggling with the A350 twin-aisle model after deliveries were disrupted by a shortage of interior fittings from suppliers including Zodiac SA.

Qatar Air had been due 12 A350s this year but has received only three, and an order for 10 Boeing 777-300ER jets announced at the same time as the Max deal is aimed in part at filling the potential gap going forward, he said. The 30 787-9 Dreamliners that were also announced will replace the smaller 787-8 variant, he said.

Airbus said Wednesday it will pull out the stops to meet its target of 50 A350 deliveries this year, meaning it will have to ship 24 in the current quarter. The manufacturer has ranks of planes waiting to be fitted with seats and interiors, though meeting the goal will still be “a hell of job,” Chief Financial Officer Harald Wilhelm said.

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