Qatar Airways Is in a Mystery Spat with Airbus

Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker threatened to stop taking deliveries of Airbus SE jets this year because of an unspecified “serious” disagreement, a warning that could hamper the planemaker’s recovery plans.

“If we are not able to settle that serious issue we have with them, we will refuse to take any aircraft from them,” the CEO said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. Falling out with Qatar Airways, Al Baker warned, will cause Airbus “a stress in the relationship with IAG, with LatAm, with other airlines in which we have a shareholding.”

The subject of the spat? “I unfortunately cannot tell you what that issue is,” Al Baker said.

Airbus won’t say either. A spokesperson for the Blagnac, France-based company said it’s in constant talks with customers about their requirements, and that details on those discussions “remain confidential.”

Qatar Airways Is in a Mystery Spat with Airbus

Qatar Airways is among Airbus’s most important customers, particularly as the manufacturer considers competing with U.S. rival Boeing Co. by moving into marketing cargo carriers. It’s a position that has allowed Al Baker to put pressure on Airbus or lampoon the company in public, from threatening to cancel orders or delay deliveries to accusing Airbus of being incapable of building planes.

The airline chief previously criticized Airbus’s giant A380 jets over their inefficiency and operational cost. However, he told Bloomberg TV that was “water under the bridge” and not the subject of the latest dispute. The CEO said in January only half of its 10 A380s would return to service after being grounded in 2020.

Qatar wields an outsize influence in the industry because of its stakes in other major airlines, including British-Airways parent IAG.

The row with Qatar comes as Airbus looks to ramp up jet-making to help rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic, which grounded a large portion of air travel worldwide. The company said last week it’s looking to boost production of its best-selling A320-series jets beyond pre-pandemic levels within two years, sending waves of optimism around the industry.

The carrier has leaned on its diverse fleet to keep flying during the pandemic and expects to service more than 140 destinations by mid-summer. Smaller planes have allowed the carriers to fly with fewer passengers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s even added a handful of new routes to its roster, including Seattle and San Francisco.

Staying in the air hasn’t come cheap. Al Baker said the airline accepted $3 billion in support from the Qatari government since the start of the pandemic. The state-run carrier received its first injection of aid after its losses topped 50% of share capital last year.

Qatar’s expecting to take delivery of planes from Airbus and Boeing Co. this year, Al Baker said, after a strident campaign to defer deliveries from both companies last year.

Al Baker also said the Doha-based carrier will be the launch customer for Boeing’s highly anticipated 777x in 2023, backtracking on comments made just last week saying it wouldn’t. Qatar Airways has ordered 60 of the new model, which is being billed as the “world’s largest and most efficient twin-engine jet.”

More from the Qatar Airways CEO:

  • The forced landing of a Ryanair Holdings Plc jet flying over Belarus “is something that should have never happened,” Al Baker said. He warned it could “create a precedent” for other countries. Still, Qatar Airways isn’t stopping flights over the country. “As far as we are concerned, for us it’s business as usual.”
  • Acquisitions are on hold for now, beyond an ongoing investment in Rwandair that was announced in early 2020. “I don’t think it is the right time to invest in any carrier,” Al Baker said, citing ongoing uncertainty around the pandemic. The situation is so “unpredictable that we don’t know how to plan.”
  • Qatar is still considering a long-discussed investment in Indian carrier Indigo when “the conditions are correct,” he said.
  • Before the pandemic, Qatari officials had projected that as many as 1.5 million people could visit the tiny Gulf country for the 2022 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament. That’s still possible due to vaccine rollouts and development of drug therapies to treat Covid-19, said Al Baker, who’s also head of Qatar’s National Tourism Council.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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