Qatar could scrap 787 orders as Al Baker berates Boeing

 - June 16, 2009, 11:46 AM

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker is threatening to pull the plug on a contract for up to 60 Boeing 787s due to what appear to be serious objections to the way the long-delayed program is being handled.

“Unfortunately, Boeing is not run by commercial people,” Al Baker told a group of journalists here yesterday afternoon. “Boeing is run by bean counters and lawyers. We have some serious issues with them, and if they do not play ball with us they will be in for a serious surprise.”

Al Baker acknowledged that the issues he spoke of are related to Qatar’s order for the 787. “They’re not dealing with this in a professional manner,” he said.
Qatar has an order for 60 Boeing 787s, 30 of them firm and 30 options. The first are due for delivery to the Doha airline in 2011.

Al Baker declined to be more specific about the issues Qatar has with Boeing, but because he had not mentioned them publicly before yesterday it seemed to indicate that relations between the companies may have become strained quite recently, perhaps even here at the show. Qatar at the last moment canceled a press conference here yesterday, which was widely thought to have been a new order announcement. There had been indications that this could be rescheduled for today, but this now seems to be in doubt.

The Qatar chief executive was asked specifically whether the airline could walk away from its 787 order if the problems being encountered with Boeing aren’t resolved. “Yes, we can always walk away from a deal if the delays are unacceptable,” he said.

The Boeing 787 has been dogged by setbacks related to difficulties in managing the supply chain, changes to the design, weight increases and supplier-related issues. As a result, the airplane is almost two years late. First flight is expected later this month, with entry into service now targeted for 2010.

Asked about the Qatar CEO’s comments, a Boeing spokesman said the company does not publicly discuss customer-related issues.

Asked whether Boeing’s idea to study a new wing for the 777 would entice Qatar to consider placing an order with Boeing, Al Baker said flatly that such a move comes “too late” to have an impact on Qatar’s choices for how to expand its mainline fleet. The airline has placed an order for 80 Airbus A350XWBs and yesterday strengthened its relationship with the European airframe builder with a firm order for 24 A320-family airliners.