Qatar Airways buys 55 Airbus planes after impasse

AP News
Posted: Nov 15, 2011 7:37 AM
Qatar Airways buys 55 Airbus planes after impasse

Fast-expanding Gulf carrier Qatar Airways said Tuesday it will buy 55 Airbus planes just hours after a stunning announcement that talks had hit an impasse.

The deal includes 50 A320neos narrow bodies and five A380 double-decker jumbos with options for more. Airbus says the package is worth $6.4 billion at list prices, but airlines typically negotiate lower prices for large orders.

The announcement at the Dubai Airshow capped a startling flurry of comments in which Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker said negotiations with the European aircraft maker had stalled and then slammed the company as still "learning how to make airplanes."

The carriers announced the deal shortly after Airbus signed a memorandum of understanding with US carrier Spirit Airlines for 45 A320neo planes and 30 of regular A320 aircraft. Airbus chief operating officer John Leahy said that deal is worth $7 billion at list prices with the configurations Spirit requested.

Qatar Airways is increasingly challenging Dubai-based Emirates in the race for long-haul customers using the Gulf as a transit hub. Emirates placed a record $18 billion order for another 50 Boeing 777s shortly after the opening of the Middle East's biggest airshow on Sunday.

Neither Al-Baker nor Airbus provided details about the apparent near-unraveling of efforts to reach a deal during the airshow.

"We thought that we will ... make a very huge announcement today. Unfortunately I feel that Airbus is ... still learning how to make airplanes," al-Baker said when asked about the deal.

"That was a statement in very clear English, and you should understand what I mean," he added during a press conference to announce a deal to buy two Boeing 777 cargo planes from Airbus' U.S. rival. Those planes sell for just over $280 million at list prices.

Doha-based Qatar Airways' fleet of 101 aircraft is dominated by Airbus planes, though it also has orders or options for nearly 90 Boeing jets.

Airbus scored at least one additional order Tuesday.

The plane maker said Newport Beach, Calif.-based aircraft leasing company Aviation Capital Group signed a purchase agreement for 30 A320neo planes _ the same model Qatar Airways agreed to buy.

The A320neo offers a new engine option and other features designed to use 15 percent less fuel than older models of the single-aisle A320. It is scheduled to enter service in 2015.

Airbus' deal with ACG is worth $2.7 billion at list prices.