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 2022.
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
- 23 Boeing 787-9s (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 head of Qatar Airways called on the world’s two major planemakers to ease demands that ailing carriers accept delivery of new aircraft, saying future relationships are at stake.
Airbus and Boeing should allow the deferral of handovers until at least 2022, CEO His Excellency Akbar Al Baker told Bloomberg TV on Tuesday. Qatar Airways has about US$50 billion of orders outstanding, based on list prices.
“What is important is for Boeing and Airbus to show their customers that they are not only there with them in good times, but also in bad,” he said. “If they don’t oblige, they will permanently lose us as a customer.”
Al Baker’s comments highlight the financial pressure on airlines, especially Gulf carriers like Qatar Airways whose business shuttling travellers across the globe has been shrivelled by the coronavirus.
The CEO said he didn’t know when passengers would begin flying again in significant numbers, and 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."
Al Baker said customers returning to the skies should prepare to wear masks, gloves and even face shields on Qatar Airways flights. But he said leaving empty rows between passengers isn’t an option as it would boost ticket prices by at least 100% and be “an absolute disaster for aviation.”
The Gulf carrier has traditionally 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.
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.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg News