Qatar Airways: We're Not Abandoning Boeing, Yet
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Qatar Airways' CEO voiced confidence in Boeing Co. over its delayed 787 program Saturday, but warned the fast-growing carrier may scrap orders for the planes if development problems drag on.
Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker noted, however, that there are no current plans to amend Qatar Airways' multibillion-dollar orders for 30 787s and options for 30 more.
"If there is another slip, yes we will have no alternative" but to consider canceling orders, he said. "But as of today, I still have confidence in Boeing."
Al-Baker has been one of the most vocal critics of 787 delays. He wouldn't say how long the carrier would hold out before canceling its orders if delays continued.
He made the comments Saturday as he opened a new arrivals terminal at Doha International Airport to accommodate the airline's rapid growth. The facility, part of a $1 billion revamp of the airport, is meant to provide additional space until a new airport opens in 2012.
Test flights on the 787, also known as the Dreamliner, were halted last month because of an electrical fire, adding another wrinkle to a development program that is running well behind schedule.
Boeing is aiming to deliver the first 787 to Japan's All Nippon Airways early next year — nearly three years later than originally hoped. That target is widely expected to be pushed back further.
The 787 is made mostly of composite materials designed to make it lighter and more fuel-efficient than other planes of the same size.
Qatar ordered its 30 confirmed 787s in 2007 along with 27 Boeing 777s. The combined value of that package was $13.5 billion at list prices, though bulk buyers often negotiate steep discounts.
In Doha, al-Baker said Qatar Airways is on track to turn a profit for the second consecutive year. He said the airline is generating "a very hefty profit" but didn't provide specifics.
That has prompted the carrier to begin laying the groundwork for an initial public offering of its shares, he said. Al-Baker said the IPO could be launched as early as 2012 and involve a sale of as much as a 50 percent stake in the company.
Qatar Airways is growing rapidly, adding 18 new planes and 10 new destinations to its network so far this year. The carrier has ordered five of Airbus' A380s, with the first expected for delivery in 2013.
Al-Baker said Qatar Airways' board is mulling further orders for the double-decker planes but didn't provide details. "You will hear it when we announce" it, he said.
Additional orders for the mammoth plane would be a welcome vote of confidence for Airbus.
A blowout of an A380 engine aboard a Qantas flight on Nov. 4 raised questions about the safety of the planes, and in particular engines made by Rolls-Royce, one of two jet manufacturers for the aircraft. Engine Alliance, a joint venture between GE Aircraft Engines and Pratt & Whitney, also makes engines for the plane.
The Qantas incident has not stopped Qatar Airways from considering Rolls-Royce engines for its A380s, al-Baker said.
"We have absolute confidence in both engine manufacturers — GE and Rolls-Royce," al-Baker said. "I'm sure Rolls-Royce has already identified the problem and are fixing it, and we will still consider Rolls-Royce engines for our airplanes."