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Originally published November 15, 2011 at 10:00 PM | Page modified November 16, 2011 at 11:46 AM

Qatar Air CEO orders 50 jets after making up with Airbus

Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker reconciled with Airbus and signed an order valued at $6.4 billion, hours after publicly lambasting the European manufacturer for its inability to build aircraft.

Bloomberg News

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Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker reconciled with Airbus and signed an order valued at $6.4 billion, hours after publicly lambasting the European manufacturer for its inability to build aircraft.

The firm order is for 50 A320neo jets, with an option for 30 more, and as many as eight additional A380 superjumbos, Al Baker said at the Dubai air show on Tuesday. Signing the deal had fallen through hours earlier after talks stalled.

"Every day, sometimes you get stuck somewhere in the middle, especially when the lawyers throw the spanner into the wheel," Al Baker told a news conference in Dubai. "The impasse was on an issue of the aircraft, and this is why I mentioned that Airbus is forgetting how to make airplanes."

The airline CEO singled out the chief strategist of Airbus parent European Aeronautic, Defense & Space (EADS), Marwan Lahoud, as instrumental in salvaging the order. Journalists had waited for almost 30 minutes Tuesday morning for an announcement, until Airbus said the deal was still "too hot."

Al Baker then used a news conference with Boeing to rip into Airbus, saying the company is "still learning to build aircraft."

That prompted Airbus Chief Operating Officer John Leahy to say at another signing ceremony at the show, "Some people negotiate in the press, some negotiate in conference rooms and some do both." Asked about Al Baker's accusation that Airbus needs to learn how to build aircraft, he said "we learn very fast."

Airbus and the airline later announced the 50-jet deal.

Al Baker, who markets his airline as a five-star luxury carrier, has built a reputation for riling aircraft manufacturers, slamming them for what he considers subpar products and delays.

Boeing was forced to postpone the inaugural delivery in September of its jumbo 747-8 freighter to Cargolux, in which Qatar Air holds a 35 percent stake, after Al Baker said the jet didn't meet fuel-efficiency guarantees.

Qatar Airways and Boeing have overcome their differences, Al Baker said Tuesday, adding that "friends always have ups and downs in relationships, but it doesn't mean you end your relationship."

The Qatar Airways CEO, who said his airline receives a new jet every 18 days, used the show as a platform to voice frustration with programs including the A350 widebody under development.

The Qatari airline is the A350's first customer, and Al Baker said Tuesday it's better to wait for the right plane than rush after Airbus announced a delay of as much as six months last week.

Airbus is "looking aggressively" at the A350-1000, the largest variant of the jet, and has "returned to the drawing board" on the aircraft, Al Baker said. Leahy said he would need to send his regional deputy to Doha to explain the aircraft to Qatar Airways.

Leahy opened the briefing by thanking Al Baker for his "unwavering professional leadership," a remark that prompted a conspiratorial grin from the Qatar Airways chief. Airbus isn't in the process of redesigning the A350-1000 once again, after announcing four months ago it would add more thrust and range, Leahy said.

Qatar Airways will also be the first operator for all three variants of the A320neo, a more fuel-efficient update of the existing single-aisle jet, Leahy said. The A320neo has become the best-selling aircraft in aviation history, with Airbus securing more than 1,000 firm orders for the aircraft since December.

The two sides failed to overcome their differences on freighter aircraft, with Qatar Airways likely shelving a plan to convert Airbus A330 widebody jets into cargo planes and opting for Boeing 767 jets instead. Al Baker said he would have preferred to convert the A330s, and there remains a "small" chance of a later accord.

Qatar Airways has doubled its fleet from 51 all-Airbus aircraft flying to 70 destinations in 2006, and now serves 109 destinations across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia, North America and South America. Its fleet includes 28 Boeing 777s.

The carrier has orders for more than 200 jets valued in excess of $40 billion.

Qatar Airways has an agreement with Airbus to cover the delay on the A350-900, Al Baker said, after Airbus announced last week the holdup would lead to a charge of 200 million euros ($271 million). The airline has ordered 20 of the large A350-1000 models, 40 of the midsize A350-900 and 20 of the shortest member of the family.

"In the evolution of an aircraft, there will be constant improvements," Al Baker said. "Every manufacturer constantly improves its aircraft when it is being designed. It is better to wait and get the plane that does the job.

Bloomberg reporters Tamara Walid in Abu Dhabi, Lara Setrakian in Dubai and Rachel Layne in Boston contributed to this report.

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