Qatar drama ends in Airbus deal

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By Tom Arnold  www.thenational.ae

Qatar Airways booked a multibillion-dollar deal with Airbus for up to 88 aircraft only hours after the airline’s chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, halted talks and ridiculed the aircraft manufacturer for “still learning how to make airplanes”.

Akbar Al Baker, left, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, and John Leahy, the chief operating officer of Airbus, announce an order for 50 A320neo and five A380 aircraft valued at $6.4 billion at the Dubai Airshow yesterday. P Pigeyre / EPA
Akbar Al Baker, left, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, and John Leahy, the chief operating officer of Airbus, announce an order for 50 A320neo and five A380 aircraft valued at $6.4 billion at the Dubai Airshow yesterday. P Pigeyre / EPA

The deal – one of the biggest at this year’s Dubai Airshow – includes a firm order for 50 A320neos and five A380 double-decker super jumbos, valued at US$6.4 billion (Dh23.5bn). Qatar Airways also has an option for a further 30 A320neos and three additional A380s.

Yesterday afternoon’s unveiling of the order capped a dramatic day of brinkmanship at the show after Qatar Airways had previously cancelled an earlier-arranged announcement of a deal.

Mr Al Baker told reporters who had turned up expecting a big announcement that negotiations with the European manufacturer had reached an impasse and he was not hopeful that the order could be reached during the show. Airbus was “still learning how to make airplanes”, said the frequently outspoken airline boss.

But at a hastily convened press conference later on, the deal was signed, with Mr Al Baker saying the impasse had been overcome.

“Always in contract negotiations there will be impasse where both sides are entrenched in their positions,” Mr Al Baker said. “If we are in [impasse] for just a few hours, it’s not a big deal.”

He said the deadlock involved disagreement about “two sensitive issues” surrounding the A320neo, Airbus’s more fuel-efficient and quieter single-aisle aircraft. The issues were not related to price, but he declined to be more specific.

The drama surrounding the deal overshadowed what was a second big order by a Gulf carrier at the show, despite a softening global economy. Emirates Airline kicked off the event with a bang on Sunday by booking an $18bn order for 50 Boeing 777 aircraft, the most valuable civil order in the US plane maker’s history. More info