Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker is concerned about moves by Airbus and Boeing to offer their new widebodies with a single powerplant source and warned that the “manufacturers should know that this leads to losing business to the other OEM.”

There is a trend, Al Baker said, toward Boeing partnering solely with General Electric while Airbus “is on the way to exclusively working with Rolls-Royce” as engine providers. Airbus confirmed on Tuesday that the A330neo would be powered exclusively by Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines.   

Speaking to ShowNews on the sidelines of the Farnborough Airshow, Al Baker stressed he “wants choice. We have said that to Boeing and Airbus. We want a choice so airlines are not with their back against the wall” from a commercial perspective, although he did show some understanding about the reason. “The investment for developing a new engine is so large,” he noted.

Al Baker said that the negotiations with GE were “a little bit protracted” because he wanted guarantees on the performance of the new powerplant. “The GE[9X] engine that will be on the 777 will be very advanced with a lot of new materials being used and an upgraded design, so we want to make sure it will be the most efficient engine being built. We want to make sure that every performance requirement is properly documented,” he said.

Despite these comments, Qatar Airways’ CEO formally signed an order for 50 GE9X-powered Boeing 777X aircraft on Wednesday, finalizing the letter of intent signed at the Dubai Air Show last November, and upped the airline’s commitment with an additional 50 Boeing 777-9X purchase rights. The aircraft is due for delivery starting from 2020.

Nobody Bullies Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways will seek compensation from Airbus for the delay in the delivery of its A380s, Al Baker said. Qatar Airways refused to accept the first three of 10 A380s it has ordered, due for delivery in May and June, citing problems mainly with the interior of the cabin. He said he could not mention the amount due to a nondisclosure agreement with Airbus but said that the compensation would not cover the revenue loss sustained by the delay. “We had to downgrade aircraft and cancel frequencies and new routes,” he explained.

According to Airbus, Qatar Airways rejected the aircraft due to cabin finishing issues such as a bubbled texture in the paint in some areas, joint lines on wallpaper and some gaps in non-textile floor coverings. “If that is what Airbus says, it should be right. But there are other issues as well,” Al Baker commented, while declining to specify what these “other issues” are.  

Qatar Airways had planned to showcase its A380 at the Farnborough Airshow but Airbus did not bring the aircraft. “This was absolutely disappointing to Qatar Airways, but it is not my aircraft yet. They [Airbus] said they are working on the aircraft but I think this is an excuse. I think they were trying to push us [for not signing off on the aircraft] but Qatar Airways does not get bullied by anybody.”

Al Baker said there is no fixed delivery date yet for the A380s.

He vowed the airline would make sure the cabin-interior issues of the A380s would not be repeated on its A350s. Qatar Airways is the launch customer of Airbus’ A350, and has ordered 43 A350-900s and 37 larger -1000s.

The first delivery is expected in the fourth quarter of this year. Al Baker said he’s confident “up to now” that the test program is progressing well, while he cautions that the test program is only halfway done. Even if there were some kind of delay, “I still hope they will be able to deliver at least one aircraft to one customer [Qatar]” before the end of the year, he said.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect Qatar's order.