EVERETT — Qatar Airways, the airline of a wealthy Arab nation beleaguered by a diplomatic crisis, unveiled its first Boeing 747-8 freighter at an elegant ceremony Monday morning in Everett.
A cocktail jazz pianist vamped on a cover of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” as media from around the world waited for His Excellency Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, to walk down a red carpet on the second floor of the Boeing Delivery Center.
Outside on the tarmac sat a 250-foot-long cargo plane bearing a maroon Qatar Airways logo. The 747-8 is the largest jumbo jet built in the United States. It’s the newest acquisition for Qatar Airways’ cargo division, and a freight fleet that has grown into one of the world’s busiest seemingly overnight.
“Of course our sights are set on No. 1,” Al Baker told the media. “I’m sure you know I don’t like to be No. 2 or No. 3.”
Yet this has been a challenging year for Qatar Airways and its home country. In June, four neighboring countries accused Qatar of supporting Islamist militants in the region. Qatar denies it.
Along with an embargo on trade and restrictions on news media, Qatar was banned from airspace over Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. The airline’s passenger network sank 10 percent, Al Baker said.
“Our adversaries thought they would bring us to our knees and we would capitulate, but this didn’t happen,” Al Baker said Monday. “Air cargo, and Boeing and Airbus freighters, played a very key role to disprove this notion.”
In fact the blockade has had the opposite of the intended effect, at least in the business of freight, Al Baker said. Air deliveries of food and medical supplies more than doubled in the ongoing crisis. Qatar Airways ordered a second 747-8 freighter, and Al Baker hinted Monday that the airline might order a third.
Qatar Airways’ fleet of 200 planes is a mix of Boeing and Airbus models, with hundreds more on order. Al Baker announced the order of four more Boeing 777-300s on Monday.
Qatar, an oil-rich state in the Persian Gulf, is the wealthiest nation in the world, per capita. In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, which is owned by the government of Qatar, Al Baker referred to “dark clouds” cast by the crisis facing the country and his business.
On Monday he stepped outside to a light drizzle to cut a ribbon under the plane, alongside two Boeing executives: Ray Conner, the company’s vice chairman, and Kevin McAllister, president of commercial airplanes. The enormous nose door of the plane lifted, and so did the face of the country’s leader, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, painted on the bottom of the fuselage.
“This beautiful bird,” Al Baker said, “is a gift from Qatar Airways to the people of our country.”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.