MIAMI — Middle Eastern giant Qatar Airways firmed an order for 50 Boeing 777-9X aircraft Wednesday at the Farnborough Airshow and made purchase “commitments” for an additional 50 aircraft in a deal worth $37.7 at present list prices. The firm order had been announced last year at the Dubai Air Show, and is worth $18.9 billion at list prices. Qatar Airways also ordered four Boeing 777 Freighters with purchase options for four more, in an order worth $1.2 billion at list prices.
In valuation terms, the massive order from Qatar Airways boosts the Boeing order book at an airshow that had been hitherto dominated (in headlines) by rival Airbus, who launched the Airbus A330neo as a competitor to Boeing’s flagship 787 Dreamliner on Monday and sold 106 copies of the re-engined aircraft over the first two days of the show.
Last November at the Dubai Air Show, Qatar Airways jointly announced a letter of intent (LOI) for 50 Boeing 777-9Xs with rival Emirates, and on Wednesday in the UK it finalized the order for those 50 aircraft. The additional 50 “commitments” are technically purchase options, however Akbar Al-Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, stated that his airline intend to take delivery of all 50 additional 777Xs.
“The 50 commitments will become options,” said Mr. Al Baker, “and eventually we will purchase all 100 aircraft.” In making that assertion, Mr. Al Baker confidently pointed to Qatar Airways’ track record of exercising every one of its purchase options from Boeing and Airbus in the past.
The order represents the largest purchase of a single aircraft type in Qatar Airways’ history, and the 50 firm orders will begin to be delivered in 2020. No time frame has been set for delivery of the 50 additional 777X commitments, and some of these aircraft may end up operating for Qatar Airways’ recently announced leasing arm.
Qatar Airways plans to configure its 777-9Xs in a 10-abreast configuration, which would allow for seating up to 407 passengers according to manufacturer specifications. “Yes we will go 10-abreast because [the] Boeing [777X] is a flexible airplane and you can find space to go 10-abreast.” Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner noted that this was made possible because of a widening of interior space within the fuselage.
“This order is a vote of confidence in the Boeing 777X,” said Mr. Al Baker, “We wish to expand the presence of the Boeing 777 in our fleet…. It is an aircraft that is well loved by our passengers…. The Boeing 777 is the backbone of our fleet.”
Mr. Conner reflected on the nature of his company’s partnership with Qatar Airways. “It seems like a long time ago when we were at Dubai, and announced your intent,” Mr. Conner reflected, “For us to be a partner with Qatar Airways and with you personally, it’s an honor… “It’s [the 777X] going to do amazing things for you.” Mr. Conner also inadvertently highlighted the contrast between Qatar Airways’ rather public criticism of rivals Airbus and its massive statement in ordering up to 100 777Xs.
“I cannot tell you how much we appreciate your confidence in us and the 777X.”
Boeing’s 787-8 Dreamliner has had several high profile issues with maintenance and dispatch reliability, but Mr. Al Baker was upbeat on the status of the Dreamliner. “Every new program will have for the first two to three years teething issues, especially when it comes to flying as a passenger program instead of test flights… the problems on the 787 have been minor and expected… the same thing will happen with A350….It [the 787] exceeded all of its performance commitments and guarantees… There are even still major teething problems with the A380, which should be a mature airplane.”
Mr. Al Baker did imply that he was unhappy about the 777X’s single engine choice. “Boeing and Airbus both know that I’m disappointed in the lack of competition amongst engine makers,” commented Mr. Al Baker, “It’s [an] added insurance policy to have engine competition… Just look at the C-Series, the only engine available today is the GTF.”
The timing of the announcement surprised some observers, because it came just one day after Mr. Al Baker indicated to journalists that Qatar Airways were unsure of the timeline for firming the 777X. However, the mercurial Mr. Al Baker revealed that his comments one day before were a feint. “I did it [denied that we would firm the order at Farnborough] to put suspense in your mind, I don’t like to disclose things in my pocket before I’m ready to put [them] on the table.”
Mr. Al Baker indicated that his previous concerns over Boeing’s proposed supply chain had been alleviated. “Wherever the aircraft will be built by Boeing, we have confidence in the factory.” With the 777X set to be built largely in Washington State anyway, Mr. Al Baker’s concerns appear to have been unnecessary.
Mr. Al Baker did take the time to address the issues with the A380 that happened to crop up as the Farnborough airshow opened early this week. “We are a very demanding customer,” Mr. Al Baker declared, “and we will only accept the A380s when they meet our standards… We intend to take all 10 A380s that we have on order… only if all our specifications and requirements are met.”
Calling the A380’s challenges before entering service with Qatar Airways “major teething problems” appears a bit of hyperbole normally exhibited exclusively by Boeing’s lead salesman Randy Tinseth. But, the positive tone exhibited by Mr. Al Baker in his comments on the 787 is still notable given that the outspoken Mr. Al Baker is rarely shy in voicing his displeasure.