Airbus nabs 55-jet order at Dubai

By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

Qatar Airways’ chief executive reversed course Tuesday, placing an order for 55 Airbus planes within hours of saying Airbus was “still learning how to make airplanes.”

Doha-based Qatar Airways ordered 50 of Airbus’ A320 new engine-option aircraft, or A320neos, and five A380 super jumbos. The European jet maker said the deal is worth $6.4 billion at list prices, but airlines typically negotiate lower prices for large orders.

The announcement was made at the Dubai Air Show.

Early on Tuesday, Qatar chief executive Akbar Al-Baker slammed Airbus, saying order talks were at an impasse.

“We thought that we will … make a very huge announcement today. Unfortunately I feel that Airbus is … still learning how to make airplanes,” Al-Baker said when asked about the deal.

But Al-Baker was more congenial about Airbus when announcing the order later.

“The A320neo promises to be a great aircraft, which is why we have chosen it to form the backbone of our future single aisle expansion,” he said in a statement.

Qatar has ordered a total of 10 A380s from Airbus since 2003. Airbus has 240 orders for its A380 from 18 customers.

“It is with great pride that we are announcing this large order today including an additional five A380s,” John Leahy, Airbus chief operating officer of customers, said in a statement. “We appreciate having built a unique relationship with our friends at Qatar Airways over the years.”

Qatar’s Al-Baker has a reputation for making colorful statements about jet makers Airbus and the Boeing Co. In 2009, angry over 787 delays, Al-Baker said that “a lot of heads would roll” if he was CEO of Boeing.

Qatar Airways is increasingly challenging Dubai-based Emirates in the race for long-haul customers using the Gulf as a transit hub. Emirates placed a record $18 billion order for another 50 Boeing 777s shortly after the opening of the Middle East’s biggest air show on Sunday.

On Tuesday, Qatar also signed a deal for two Boeing Co. 777 freighters. Boeing said the order is valued at $560 million at list prices. Qatar has ordered eight 777 freighters from Boeing.

“We are expanding our fleet with airplanes like the Boeing 777 Freighter that allow us to deliver cargo further and more efficiently than ever before,” Al-Baker said in a statement.

Airbus also announced another order on Tuesday. Aviation Capital Group ordered 30 A320neos, worth $2.7 billion at list prices.

The A320neo offers a new engine option and other features designed to use 15 percent less fuel than older models of the single-aisle A320. It is scheduled to enter service in 2015.

Gregoire’s 737 MAX plan

Gov. Chris Gregoire will reveal her plan at 10 a.m. today for making sure the Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX will be built in Washington state. Visit www.heraldnet.com for an early report. In the next few months, Boeing will decide where to manufacture its re-engined 737, a single-aisle aircraft that has been built for decades in Renton. Gregoire’s plan comes after a consulting firm assessed the state’s competitiveness.