MIAMI— Qatar Airways celebrated the delivery of its 24th and 25th 787s this week with a ceremony at Boeing’s Everett Delivery Center. And, despite previous rumblings about the type, CEO Akbar Al Baker is very, very optimistic about the Dreamliner, suggesting that some of the 30 options may be converted to firm orders in the near future. Al Baker was effusive in his praise for the 787, alternately calling it a “revolutionary aircraft” and “a global phenomenon” while also thanking Boeing for getting the project back on track after the rough start. Boeing’s Ray Conner described the situation, “It has not been an easy journey, but it is a journey we made together.”
Conner also spoke to the value Qatar Airways brought to the 787 program:
This is an unbelievable airplane in terms of its configuration, in terms of its amenities and all those things. That’s because of the demands and the expectations of which Qatar Airways provides to us. For us to meet those, it raises our whole game. I think that’s appropriate. I think that’s expected. I feel fortunate the fact that Akbar does have very high expectations because it makes us perform so much better across the board.
Qatar Airways will potentially use its 30 787-9 options as replacements for its current 787-8 fleet. Al Baker noted that the carrier tries to maintain an average fleet age of just 5 years old so “there is a lot of stamina for us to keep on taking airplanes in order to replace and keep our fleet young.”
Al Baker also used the event as an opportunity to speak to many topics, from the competitive landscape to future product developments. He was emphatic that there would be no Premium Economy product offered on Qatar Airways planes anytime soon. He is incredibly proud of the economy product offered, going so far as to bring the media back into the economy class cabin following the press conference (held in business class) and demonstrating the comfort and value proposition offered.
His Excellency also noted that the carrier has a new business class product expected in late 2016; this is believed to be the “double beds” previously intimated in January 2015 at the A350 delivery ceremony. There will also be an update to the economy class offering at that time.
Regarding the industry overall, Al Baker was not shy about the ongoing fight with Delta Air Lines, suggesting that Richard Anderson “I think has lost the plot. He’s coming very close towards retirement age, so I would really take whatever he says with a pinch of salt.” He continued,
I think he must be referring to $10-million [older planes], which he keeps on buying to fly, overcharge passengers, and make the record profits he’s making. If I do the same thing, I would also be going continuously laughing to the bank, but we believe in giving our passengers Gold Plus product, efficient, new-technology airplanes where both the passengers and the airline benefit from, so I would really not want to comment about his very dubious remarks about everything in aviation. He thinks that he knows aviation better than anybody else, but you know that lawyers always feel that way. We are businessmen, and we look at it in a different way. Thank you.
The suggestion that Qatar Airways can remain profitable while charging customers less for a flight is especially likely to draw the ire of Delta given the recent subsidy discussions, to say nothing of the personal jibes being tossed around.