Qatar Airways threatens to stop taking Airbus deliveries over ‘serious’ dispute

Airline with outsize influence in industry among Airbus’s most important customers

Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker threatened to stop taking deliveries of Airbus SE jets this year because of an unspecified "serious" disagreement, a warning that could hamper the plane maker's recovery plans.

“If we are not able to settle that serious issue we have with them, we will refuse to take any aircraft from them,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. Falling out with Qatar Airways, Al Baker warned, will cause Airbus “a stress in the relationship with IAG, with LatAm, with other airlines in which we have a shareholding”.

The subject of the spat? “I unfortunately cannot tell you what that issue is,” Al Baker said.

Airbus won’t say either. A spokesperson for the Blagnac, France-based company said it was in constant talks with customers about their requirements, and that details on those discussions “remain confidential”.

Qatar Airways is among Airbus’s most important customers, particularly as the manufacturer considers competing with US rival Boeing by moving into marketing cargo carriers. It’s a position that has allowed Al Baker to put pressure on Airbus or lampoon the company in public, from threatening to cancel orders or delay deliveries to accusing Airbus of being incapable of building aircraft.

The airline chief previously criticised Airbus’s giant A380 jets over their inefficiency and operational cost. However, he told Bloomberg TV that was “water under the bridge” and not the subject of the latest dispute. He said in January only half of its 10 A380s would return to service after being grounded in 2020.

Qatar wields an outsize influence in the industry because of its stakes in other major airlines, including British-Airways parent IAG, which owns Aer Lingus.

Increasing production

The row with Qatar comes as Airbus looks to ramp up jet-making to help rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic, which grounded a large portion of air travel worldwide. The company said last week it was looking to boost production of its best-selling A320-series jets beyond pre-pandemic levels within two years, sending waves of optimism around the industry.

The carrier has leaned on its diverse fleet to keep flying during the pandemic and expects to service more than 140 destinations by mid-summer. Smaller planes have allowed the carriers to fly with fewer passengers amid the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s even added a handful of new routes to its roster, including Seattle and San Francisco.

Staying in the air hasn’t come cheap. Al Baker said the airline accepted $3 billion in support from the Qatari government since the start of the pandemic. The state-run carrier received its first injection of aid after its losses topped 50 per cent of share capital last year.

Qatar is expecting to take delivery of planes from Airbus and Boeing this year, Al Baker said, after a strident campaign to defer deliveries from both companies last year.

Al Baker also said the Doha-based carrier would be the launch customer for Boeing’s highly anticipated 777x in 2023, backtracking on comments made just last week to the contrary. Qatar Airways has ordered 60 of the new model, which is being billed as the “world’s largest and most efficient twin-engine jet”.