PARIS — Qatar Airways is firing the latest shot in both the Airbus versus Boeing and U.S. Big Three versus the Gulf Big Three battles with an order for four current-generation Boeing 777F freighters and 10 next-generation 777-8 aircraft.
The 777-8 is the smaller of the two 777X family, sized between the current 777-200 and 777-300 family of models, and is intended to open up medium-sized ultra-long-haul markets.
The order is smaller — dare we say “quieter”?— than in previous years, although it does take the 777X order book (across both 777-8 and 777-9 aircraft) to 320 aircraft, which are scheduled to be built starting in 2017 and expected to start deliveries in 2020.
The airline is topping up its previous order for the 777-X next-generation aircraft, first by converting purchase rights to orders and second by converting 40 additional purchase rights into options in order to confirm delivery slots — and, in the interim, adding to one of the themes of the Paris Air Show so far, a welcome set of additions to cargo capacity with dedicated aircraft, four current-generation 777F for Qatar Airways.
“The order for an additional 10 777Xs is a further endorsement by Qatar Airways of the airplane which enjoyed the largest product launch in commercial jetliner history,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner.
Boeing will, of course, also be pleased that it has managed to extend the production line of its current-generation 777, since the airframer is trying to avoid too sharp a spin-down in production before the 777X starts deliveries.
“We are also very proud that Qatar Airways continues to expand its cargo operations with the 777 Freighter. We look forward to continuing to grow and strengthen our partnership with Qatar Airways well into the future,” Conner said.
“Acquiring technologically advanced airplanes such as the 777X is integral to our expansion strategy. With the addition of these 777-8X to the 50 777-9X already on order, we are confident of continuing the tremendous legacy of the 777,” said Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker.
A significant part of Qatar Airways’ growth has come from the Boeing 777 fleet, with Al Baker noting the numerous awards his airline has won for the products featured on these aircraft. That’s despite the business class being only a fully flat bed, without the direct aisle access of Qatar’s more recent B/E Aerospace Super Diamond product, installed on the airline’s Boeing 787, Airbus A380 and A350 aircraft.
But will Qatar be the launch customer for the 777-8? “I hope so,” Al Baker said, glancing at Boeing CEO Ray Connor. “Always Ray is very kind to me.”
Also at the press conference, Al Baker confirmed that Qatar Airways would exit the Oneworld alliance if its interests in growth are not served by continued membership, raising the pressure on American Airlines CEO Doug Parker. Al Baker specifically mentioned Qatar Airways’ requirement for slots at New York’s JFK Airport as a serious issue with the airline’s ongoing membership of the alliance.
And it’s not just Qatar Airways buying Boeing aircraft destined for the Gulf state. Just before the close of the first day of the Paris Air Show on June 15, Boeing and the Qatar government announced the purchase of four Boeing C-17 Globemaster III jet airlifters. Qatar was previously the first Middle Eastern operator of the C-17 and currently operates four examples of the popular and capable airlifter.