By Charlotte Seet
Qatar Airways Becomes Launch Customer for Boeing 777X Freighter
Since June 2021, what was initially thought to be a relatively small dispute between Airbus and Qatar Airways has evolved into a massive legal dispute. Signs of the rift between the two parties gave rise due to the surface pain issues on the airline’s flagship Airbus A350s for both the -900 and -1000 variants, which eventually led to several tossing of blames here and there.
The drift between the two parties showed signs of having been even wider when it was announced that Singapore Airlines, and not Qatar Airways, was going to be the launch customer for the freighter version of the widely-popular Airbus A350 — the A350F. As more airline customers started placing their orders, many were left wondering just when Qatar Airways who also stands on the podium for being one of the largest A350 operators would place an order.
Then things probably took a more sour turn when perhaps one of the most shocking turns of events amidst the legal dispute happened. Airbus terminated its contract to sell Qatar Airways 50 Airbus A321neos — a massive slap to the airline since it has been one of the most prominent airline customers for the Toulouse, France-based aircraft manufacturing giant.
It eventually led the industry as a whole to wonder what the airline’s next move might have been, either in reconciliation to recover ties with Airbus or to cut even deeper to cease what’s remaining of their relationship.
Big Win for Boeing
It would seem that Qatar Airways has no immediate plans for reconciliation with Airbus, because the airlines placed a huge order with Boeing instead, worth up to a whopping $20 billion at just list prices for a total of 102 Boeing aircraft. This order also includes up to 50 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, including 25 confirmed orders for the 737 MAX 10, and 25 options. Additionally, the carrier has orders for up to 50 Boeing 777X freighters, including 34 confirmed orders for the 777-8 freighter and 16 options and finally, two current-generation Boeing 777 freighters.
“Boeing has a long history of building market-leading freighter aircraft and Qatar Airways is honored to have the opportunity to be the launch customer for the 777-8 Freighter, an aircraft which will not only allow us to further enhance our product offering for our customers but also help us meet our objectives to deliver a sustainable future for our business,” Mr. Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, said, in a press release.
This big order is a huge win for Chicago-based Boeing not just in terms of its order books, but also because it has finally landed the first customer for the 777X freighter. On the flip side, this proves to be a huge blow to fellow rival Airbus and is definitely widening the rift between the two disputing parties – because Qatar Airways not only found a replacement for those terminated A321neos, but it will also become the launch customer for the 777X freighter.
“We are delighted to launch Boeing’s next great cargo airplane – the 777-8 Freighter – with Qatar Airways, one of the world’s largest cargo carriers and our partner since the airline began operations 25 years ago,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Stan Deal, said. “Our team is ready to create an airplane that will serve them well for many decades. Qatar Airways’ selection of the efficient 777-8 Freighter is a testament to our commitment to provide freighters with market-leading capacity, reliability, and efficiency.”
Good news aside, this big order could eventually backfire on Boeing, especially considering the fact that the passenger version of the highly-anticipated Boeing 777X has not even entered service yet — despite having been originally scheduled to arrive by June 2020. Currently, the 777X does not seem to be ready to fly yet as it’s only scheduled to finally fly in late 2023.
The lagging of the aircraft delivery timeline has caused great upset amongst the likes of Emirates — another Gulf carrier — which had over 100 on order, but the constant lagging has caused Emirates President Tim Clark to threaten the refusal of the 777X delivery, as well as resorting having to switch some of the 777X out for the smaller Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Furthermore, Qatar Airways originally had approximately 60 of the passenger version on order, which included 10 Boeing 777-8s and 50 Boeing 777-9s. Interestingly and as part of the new big order, 20 of those on order have been replanned to be converted into freighters. Nonetheless, the delay in the passenger jet version highlights a recurring problem within Boeing whereby delays seem to be rather inevitable and even more so, as the 777X freighter version is only expected to enter service by 2027 at the earliest.
One can’t doubt that should the freighter version experience tremendous delays as well, then Qatar Airways might not be too happy either as Mr. Akbar Al Baker, added, “We certainly push Boeing hard to deliver upon our expectations, and the team at Boeing consistently strives to meet and exceed our expectations, giving the opportunity for us to be here today to launch the most significant new freighter aircraft for a generation.”
Striking Back at Airbus
Hailing as one of the world’s leading international air cargo carriers, it does make sense for Qatar Airways to invest much more into its cargo airline, which currently boasts a fleet size of 28 aircraft consisting of only the Boeing 777F and the Boeing 747F. So perhaps one could attest that the 777X order was just in-line with the current freighter partnership that the airline already had with Boeing, especially since the manufacturer claims that the payload of the 777X freighter is nearly identical to that 747-400F, with a 25 percent in fuel efficiency, emissions, and overall operating costs.
However, the Gulf carrier only has a fleet of Airbus-manufactured narrow-body aircraft — the A320s. Fleet renewal is still a necessity, so that could be perceived as the main reason why it placed such a big order for the 737 MAX. Additionally, another reason could be attributed to the loss of the A321neo contract and this was maybe the airline’s manner of delivering a message to Airbus through such politics.
Whilst the fleet renewal might not be as stunning considering the A321neo family outbids the 737 MAX in terms of versatility and range, it would also mean that Qatar Airways would have to juggle its crew and cabin services between two different aircraft types and quite possibly scrap any long-haul flight plans it initially had for its narrow-body fleet.