Qatar Airways is among Airbus's and Boeing's best customers, given its huge targets for growth. But it is also using its clout to rearrange its orderbook and push for new models.

The airline's aggressive plans will see the fleet increase to 170 aircraft from 120 within the next three years. At least some of those will be Boeing 787-8s—Qatar Airways has firm orders for 30, with options for 30 more. CEO Akbar Al Baker confirmed he is in talks with Boeing and is “very interested” in the 787-10x double-stretch variant of the airplane, possibly as launch customer, adding that “Qatar's orderbook is open for us to switch to future variants.”

Boeing has not formally committed to launching the 787-10x, but most observers believe it eventually will do so to keep customers such as Qatar happy.

As for aircraft from Airbus, the carrier has dropped its order for 20 A350-800s, saying it wants larger versions of the aircraft instead. But Qatar will receive the first of its 10 A380s in January 2014, delayed from September 2012 because it refused to take delivery until Airbus permanently fixed the wing crack issue that was first discovered on a Qantas A380 in 2011. The A380s will be the only aircraft in Qatar's new fleet to include a first-class cabin; following the 2008 economic downturn, the airline decided to offer only a two-class cabin on its new aircraft.

“Demand for first class has evaporated, especially among the business community,” says Al Baker, adding that while Qatar's business-class product is comparable to first class, it will retain a small first-class cabin on the A380s because there will be sufficient demand for it on ultra-long-haul flights.

Al Baker also has not ruled out obtaining more narrowbodies. Bombardier's delay in launching the CSeries has not put him off the program—he says he expected it—but he is now “too busy with our current programs” and waiting for Bombardier to fly the first aircraft. “Once we have overcome all our current issues with the programs we have on hand, we will restart our negotiations with Bombardier, hopefully in the next year,” Al Baker says.

Qatar also finally flew its first Boeing 787 from Seattle to Doha this month. The aircraft is flying routes in the Persian Gulf area to enable crew to become familiar with it before it is deployed on scheduled Doha-London Heathrow service in December.

The delay in delivery of the first aircraft is believed to be related to completion of checks on the General Electric GEnx-1B engines and not anything associated with the Thales-developed inflight entertainment system, as rumored. Thales CEO Alan Pellegrini refutes the rumor, telling Aviation Week that part of the issue is Boeing's unwillingness to risk disrupting its finely balanced production system by installing the connectivity element simultaneously with the inflight passenger media units. The aircraft had to be sent to Boeing's Victorville, Calif., facility to retrofit the system. Pellegrini says it will take 10 more retrofits before the aircraft maker will consider line-fitting the new Thales system.

To further implement its expansion plans, Qatar will begin moving to the New Doha International Airport next year. Originally scheduled for December 2012, the airport's opening has been delayed, partly due to decisions made by the airport operator, Qatar Civil Aviation Authority, which dropped a key contractor that it is now suing. But Qatar Airways' aggressive growth also meant that the airport, initially designed to handle 12 million passengers annually, had to be enlarged to accommodate 24 million per year. In addition, even though the airline is doing away with most of its first-class cabins, the design of the first-class lounge in the terminal has caused the most recent delay.

The airport project's architect, Bernardo Gogna, says the terminal is now 98% complete, however. It will be handed over to Qatar Airways in January, he says, and 6-8 months of trials are expected to take place before the airline moves its operations there. When Aviation Week visited the terminal this month, the baggage systems were undergoing tests, and final fixtures and fittings were being installed.

But the opening next year will only be the first of several phases of growth at the airport. Gogna says a second terminal may be needed due to the FIFA World Cup, which the country is hosting in 2022.

With plans to ultimately accommodate 48 million passengers per year on the 22-sq.-km (8.5-sq.-mi.) site, there is still no end in sight to Qatar Airways' fleet expansion plans.

Qatar Airways finally took delivery of its first Boeing 787 this month. To see video of the handover and more, check out the digital edition of AW&ST on leading tablets and smartphones, or go to

Qatar Airways Fleet
Aircraft Existing On Order
Airbus A300-600 3  
Airbus A319-100NEO   6
Airbus A319-100LR 2  
Airbus A320-200NEO   30
Airbus A320-200 30 2
Airbus A321-200NEO   14
Airbus A321-200 12  
Airbus A330-200 16  
Airbus A330-300 13  
Airbus A340-600 4  
Airbus A350-800   20*
Airbus A350-900   40
Airbus A350-1000   20
Airbus A380-800   10
Boeing 777-200LR 9  
Boeing 777-300ER 18 7
Boeing 777F 4 4
Boeing 787-8 3 27
Bombardier Challenger 605 3  
Bombardier Global 5000 2  
Bombardier Global Express XRS 1  
Totals: 120 180
Sources: Aviation Week Intelligence Network and Qatar Airways