Press: Qatar Airways orders 80 Airbus A350s

Qatar Airways is set to become the launch customer for the new family of Airbus long-haul, wide-body jets, the A350, the Financial Times reported in its online edition, citing Qatar Airway’s CEO. The Middle East carrier is expected to finalise an order for 80 aircraft, valued at 16 bln usd, before very heavy discounts, in June, the paper said.

The order will provide a vote of confidence in the ability of the troubled European aircraft maker to deliver its planned range of long range, 270-350 seat jets on schedule following the costly debacle over bringing the larger A380 superjumbo into series production.

Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways chief executive, told the Financial Times: “We are close to signing a letter of intent [to order the A350s] and we will then sign a contract by the middle of 2007.”

The formal signing is likely to take place at the Paris airshow in June, the report said.

Al Baker also provided much-needed support for Airbus’s beleaguered A380 programme. He said the airline, which had previously announced firm orders for two A380s, would definitely convert its options for two more A380s into firm orders, and it was also discussing internally additional A380 orders. Negotiations had not yet started with Airbus.

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He said that the scale of the penalty payments for late delivery of the A380s had been included in the original contract. “We have a very tough penalty clause. We are quite satisfied with it,” he said.

Delivery of Qatar Airways’ first two A380s had been rescheduled to the end of 2010 and early 2011, he said, with the next two aircraft due to arrive at the end of 2011 and in early 2012.

The delivery dates could possibly be brought forward, however, he said, as a result of the recent cancellation by UPS, the US express freight group, of its orders for 10 A380 freighters and the decision by Airbus to halt development of the cargo version in order to concentrate its stretched engineering resources on the rescue programme for the passenger version.

Qatar Airways originally reached a provisional agreement with Airbus in mid-2005 to order 60 A350s, but the project was then hit by long delays.

Al Baker disclosed for the first time yesterday that the airline was intending to raise the order to 80 A350s from 60 and said it was planning to include orders for all three versions of the aircraft including 20 of the A350-1000, the biggest version at around 350 seats.

It was planning to take first delivery in 2013 and Al Baker said that it was written into the contract that Qatar Airways would be the launch customer.
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