Qatar Airways plans to suspend the delivery of new jets from Airbus and Boeing until post-coronavirus travel demand returns to normal – a state which its CEO doesn't expect to see until at least 2023.
The decision will impact the arrival of anywhere from 160 to over 200 aircraft, based on the Gulf carrier's unfulfilled orders and 'letters of intent' placed for the following:
- the Airbus A321neo and A321neo LR (50 orders in all), which were also to have debuted a flat-bed business class seat
- over a dozen Airbus A350-1000 jets sporting the airline's flagship Qsuite business class
- 16 Boeing 787-10s (seven have been delivered but are yet to begin commercial flights), said to be fitted with an evolved 'Qsuite 2.0' business class suite
- as many as 110 of Boeing's next-generation 777X, beginning with 10 of the 777-9 plus 50 orders and 50 options on the longer-range 777-8
- up to 60 of the problem-plagued Boeing 737 MAX 8 (as a letter of intent, not an inked order)
The Gulf carrier has been an ardent purchaser of new aircraft – if also a very demanding customer, with an eye for detail – as it steadily expanded its network.
"Up to now, we are getting around on an average 35-36 airplanes a year," airline CEO His Excellency Akbar Al Baker told Executive Traveller in October 2019, at the announcement of plans to build the world's largest airport lounge at Doha's expanded Hamad International Airport.
"Next year (2020) we are earmarked to get over 40 aircraft. This will be the highest 12-month aircraft delivery to Qatar Airways."
The coronavirus pandemic has of course put a crimp in that schedule and Qatar Airways' broader ambitions, and it will now reduce its fleet by 25% during the drawn-out recovery period.
The airline has already begun discussions with Airbus and Boeing about pushing back on the delivery schedule and confirmed "it will be deferred for several years, Al Baker told The South China Morning Post.
As previously reported, the airline's ten Airbus A380s will remain grounded until the second half of 2021 and may never return to the skies. "Qatar Airways is parking its 10 A380s and they will not return for at least a year, and maybe never," Al Baker said during a media briefing to discuss the airline's plans.
Al Baker expects the travel industry will take "around two to three years to get back to 2019 levels... I think I would be very surprised if things will happen before 2023/2024."