Leverage may be behind refusal of first 747-8 freighter

Speculation continued Monday about why Cargolux refused to take delivery of the first Boeing Co. 747-8 freighter.

Last Friday, Boeing announced that Cargolux would not take the new freighter Monday due to “contractual” issues. The last-minute cancellation of the delivery prompted two popular theories: That the 747-8 freighter wasn’t performing up to Cargolux’s expectations or that the Luxembourg-based cargo company wanted Boeing to compensate it more for being two years late in delivery.

On Saturday, Cargolux put more pressure on Boeing, saying it had “rejected” the first two freighters and will look elsewhere to meet demand if the issue can’t be resolved in “a timely manner.” Cargolux is the launch customer for Boeing’s refreshed 747-8 jumbo freighter. It’s unclear how the delay in delivery is affecting 747-8 deliveries to other customers.

Analyst Scott Hamilton of Issaquah floated a new theory on his Leeham Co. blog on Monday. Hamilton suggested the delivery holdup has to do Qatar Airway’s recently acquired 35 percent stake in Cargolux.

“Qatar’s CEO Akbar Al-Baker views the Cargolux compensation as essentially setting a benchmark for his (compensation for late) 787s at Qatar,” Hamilton wrote, citing unnamed sources.

Boeing has delayed its mostly composite 787 by more than three years. It plans to deliver the first Dreamliner next week to Japan’s All Nippon Airways.

Al-Baker has been critical of Boeing’s management of the 787 program. After an electrical fire broke out on a test plane last November, Al-Baker said the 787 program had failed. In 2009, he threatened to pull orders from Boeing, saying the company was run by “bean counters and lawyers.”

Boeing has said it plans to deliver between 25 and 30 of its 747-8s and 787s by year’s end. The company’s shares dropped $1.23 on Monday to close at $64.15.

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