It’s been a long time since we’ve seen an airline put its full faith in Boeing, but Qatar has recently done just that. After a growing, contentious fight with Airbus over paint, Qatar has now asked Boeing to fulfill its narrowbody and cargo needs. This is no small deal.
There were really two components to this deal, though only one got the headlines. Qatar will order 50 777-8 freighters. That makes Qatar the launch customer for the 777X freighter project, and it gives the airline an enormous amount of capacity coming into the fleet.
According to ch-aviation, Qatar today operates 26 777-200F freighters and 2 747-8Fs. It also has 5 787-9s that are being used solely for cargo right now, despite not being actual freighters. It wanted to replace some of its aging fleet, but it also wanted to grow. The two best options were a 777X or A350 freighter, but until recently, neither existed.
Airbus launched its A350 freighter with a capacity of 109 tonnes and 42 pallets on two decks. That’s smaller than the 747-8, but compared to the 777-200F’s capacity of 103 tonnes and 37 pallets, it is bigger. Of course, it’s also more fuel efficient and economical being a newer-generation aircraft.
The A350 would have been a natural for Qatar since it already owns more than 50 A350s in its passenger fleet, but, well, there’s that pesky paint problem. As you’ve undoubtedly heard, Qatar is angry that there is a problem that was initially widely described as peeling paint on the A350s. Airbus effectively ignored Qatar and said it wasn’t a safety of flight issue. Qatar pushed back repeatedly, ultimately showing this video of the problems up close.
This certainly looks like more than just a paint problem, but of course, it’s only one side of the story. Regardless, Qatar says it has been forced to ground 21 of its A350s, and it and Airbus are trading lawsuits in court.
Naturally, this opened the door up for Boeing to come in with a competitive freighter. It also gave Qatar CEO Akbar al Baker something he loves… being first. Qatar will be the launch customer for the 777X freighter with 34 firm and 16 options.
This thing is big with a capacity for 118 tonnes and 44 pallets, but it’s also a bit of an unknown. Right now, the A350 passenger aircraft is flying and has been for some time. The 777X has yet to be certified in any configuration. Boeing is hoping to have the passenger version flying by the end of 2023, though a further delay is far from unlikely. These freighters aren’t expected to arrive until 2027.
This also isn’t a brand new order in that 20 of these airplanes are being converted from passenger 777Xs that Qatar already had on order. But it’s still quite the coup for Boeing. It is a big order for an expensive airplane, and Airbus probably could have had an inside track if not for this mess.
But what’s beneath the headlines is an even bigger blow to Airbus. As part of this spat with Qatar, Airbus decided to retaliate and cancel an order for 50 A321neos that Qatar had firmed.
Up until now, the only narrowbodies Qatar currently flies are Airbus A320 family aircraft. It has 32 in the fleet today and was planning significant growth with the neo. But with that dead, Airbus has now handed the business right to Boeing.
Buried at the bottom of the 777X announcement was another piece of news that Qatar will take 25 737 MAX 10s firm with options for another 25. This too is not a certified aircraft, though Boeing is waiting for the FAA to sign off and it shouldn’t (hopefully) be too long. This airplane doesn’t have the range that Qatar could get out of the Airbus aircraft, but it doesn’t really need the range, or so it says. So, Boeing’s product will do just fine, especially if it allows the airline to give a giant middle finger to Airbus.
It’s one thing when an airline fights with a manufacturer, but it’s another thing entirely when the brawl spirals so far out of control that it just hands off an enormous chunk of business to a competitor. Airbus cannot be happy about this, but frankly, Qatar can’t be either. Who is happy? Well, Boeing is definitely at the top of that list.