Qatar Airways says it will no longer be the prestigious launch customer for the beleaguered Boeing 777X, even if the next-generation jet arrives at the end of 2022.
Lufthansa and Emirates have both previously been nominated to take delivery of the world's first Boeing 777-9, which was originally due to be handed over in mid-2020, but a series of delays have turned even tentative dates into a moving target.
Barely seven weeks ago, speaking at a US-Qatari Business Council event, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker declared "Qatar Airways is also the launch customer of the Boeing 777X aircraft and is actively working with Boeing on the design and performance specification for this new aircraft type."
At the time, Al Baker said that while "we will take the 777X whenever it is ready... Boeing has notified us that there will be a delay on the delivery of those aircraft until 2023, so in the year 2023 we will receive our first three 777X aircraft."
Overnight saw the CEO change tack, with Al Baker saying during a webinar by aviation site Simple Flying "we won't be the first one to operate the aircraft, it will be somebody else."
Al Baker didn't indicate which airline might now have claimed or reclaimed Boeing 777X bragging rights, although he deftly added some spin in saying "but it's good, they can be the guinea pig and we will benefit."
The Gulf carrier has places orders for 60 Boeing 777X jets, with 50 of the 777-9 version and 10 of the slightly smaller but longer-range 777-8s.
These will then allow Qatar Airways to retire its 48 Boeing 777-300ERs and nine long-legged Boeing 777-200LRs to reinvent the Boeing 777 fleet in an almost a like-for-like swap.
The steady draw-down of the 777-300ER and 777-200LR jets as the next-gen 777X rolls into the hangars at Doha means that "by 2025 we will have just the 777X," Al Baker told Executive Traveller in June 2020.
New Boeing 777X Qsuites
All of the Qatari flag-carrier’s Boeing 777X jets will feature a second generation of the airline’s highly-regarded business class Qsuite, with Al Baker confirming “we are developing new seats for the 777s.”
In addition, some of the 777-9s may also boast “a very exclusive first class cabin of just four seats,” Al Baker says, describing the under-development suites as a deliberately “very niche product” aimed at well-heeled Qatari travellers.
“We have huge demand here in Qatar to two or three European destinations” such as London and Paris, “so we may introduce a very small first class cabin for our local passengers who want a very exclusive first class product.”
However, the luxury cribs would appear on “just a handful” of the Gulf carrier’s Boeing 777-9 aircraft dedicated to those premium-heavy European routes.