Paris Air Show

Qatar boosts Airbus with A320 orders

 - June 15, 2009, 10:46 AM

Qatar Airways signed a firm contract yesterday for 24 Airbus A320-family aircraft in a deal that included the conversion of an option the operator placed during last year’s Farnborough air show for four A321s. Qatar expects to take delivery of the first of those airplanes this coming November, while yesterday’s new order for 20 A320s gets filled through the end of 2012. Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker placed a value of $1.9 billion on the contract during a ceremony at the Airbus press chalet.
“I have to say, in favor of Airbus, we wanted to expedite deliveries [of the 20 A320s] but Airbus didn’t have the slots available,” said Al Baker.

Now flying 19 of the single-aisle Airbuses, Qatar Airways already ranks as the largest operator of the type in the Middle East. The new airplanes, to come configured with a two-class cabin, will “enhance and expand” Qatar’s service in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and India, said Al Baker. 

Qatar also confirmed yesterday an order for International Aero Engines V2500 turbofans to power the fleet. The value of that contract is some $700 million at list prices. “It is the most reliable option in the many harsh weather conditions we operate in,” Al Baker said of the engine choice. Airbus also offers various versions of the CFM56 on its A320 family jets.

Al Baker said that the contract with Airbus does not necessarily rule out a later deal with Bombardier for C Series narrowbodies, but he did confirm that his airline and the Canadian manufacturer “couldn’t come to an amicable conclusion,” stalling negotiations. “We do hope [Bombardier] will look long-term and come to the table and meet the stringent conditions Qatar requires from a manufacturer.”

Also the Middle East’s largest operator of Airbus A330s, Qatar had already begun the process of replacing suspect pitot tube sensors on its fleet before the crash of Air France Flight 447, said Al Baker. He also cautioned against drawing any premature conclusions, however, warning attendees not to “put the wagon ahead of the horse.”  
Al Baker also served as his region’s most prominent cheerleader yesterday, citing IATA statistics that show the Middle East and South America as the last two regions where traffic continues to grow. He also sent a blunt warning to upstart low-fare carriers in the region such as FlyDubai and Air Arabia. “If Qatar Airways is undercut, we would most definitely launch a low-cost [unit],” he said, although he harbors no plans to do so otherwise. If necessary, however, he said Qatar could launch such a service within 90 days.

Al Baker would rather not have to follow that path, however, as Qatar bills itself as one of the premier full-service airlines in the Middle East. In fact, it keeps none of its airplanes in service for more than five years, and some of the new Airbus airplanes ordered yesterday will replace earlier models it plans to lease to other airlines. 

Qatar Airways and Etihad Opt for V2500s on A320s
International Aero Engines (IAE) has won two major Middle East contracts to power Airbus A320 family aircraft. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways have both gone for V2500 engines rather than CFM International’s CFM56, which is the market leader by some margin.

Etihad will fit V2500s to its new fleet of 20 A320-family aircraft in an order worth $192 million. The carrier was the launch customer for IAE’s V2500 SelectOne build standard in March this year and already has nine V2500-powered A320s in its fleet. The new engine is due to enter service in October, improving on-wing time by 20 percent and improving environmental performance.

Qatar Airways’s $233 million order covers the 20 A320s and four A321s it has ordered. It already has IAE engines on its existing fleet of 21 aircraft.

Separately, Air China has selected V2500s to power its fleet of 22 Airbus A320s and A321s. Deliveries are scheduled to start in April 2010. The deal, including a long-term aftermarket agreement, is valued at $700 million. Air China already operates the V2500 on its 12 Airbus A319s.