PARIS (AFP) – Qatar Airways said on Thursday it plans to buy 80 Airbus A350 aircraft for about 17.2 billion dollars (13 billion euros), in what would be one of the biggest orders ever for the crisis-hit aircraft maker.
The order would also be a huge boost for the new version of the A350XWB long-haul airliner, in replacement of an earlier project which was abandoned because of disaffection by potential customers.
The chief executive of Qatar Airways Akbar Al Baker told told the Financial Times in an interview published on Thursday that his airline was “on the point of signing” a letter of intent for the purchase of the new enlarged jet.
His remarks are also a timely expression of confidence in Airbus, the day before tens of thousands of Airbus worker at factories across Europe are due to down tools to protest restructuring and the loss of 10,000 jobs.
Airbus and its parent EADS say the measures are now urgent to save 5.0 billion euros (6.6 billion dollars) by 2010 in a response to problems caused by delays in production of the star product, the A380 superjumbo jet. The delays have led to the loss of some orders and discussion of terms with some clients.
Al Baker also said the airline, which had already placed two firm orders for the A380, would convert two options into firm orders and was considering raising this figure.
Airbus declined to comment on the interview.
The Qatar Airways chief executive said the airline would sign the contract in the middle of 2007, and the newspaper said it might be signed formally at the Paris-Le Bourget air show in June.
This would confirm and increase the interest of the airline in the A350. The company had signed a letter of intent to buy 60 of the airliners under the initial specification in 2005 but had not converted this into a firm order, and this had raised doubts about its commitment to the plane.
The airline had expressed concern about delays to development of the project, and in 2006 Al Baker had warned that is would not wait indefinitely.
Airbus, and its parent group EADS, decided in December, in the depths of their crisis over production delays and organisation, to go ahead with a revamped A350XWB programme costing 10.0 billion euros (13.2 billion dollars) to compete with the 787 Dreamliner offered by US manufacturer Boeing.
This cost of developing the new version, with an enlarged fuselage, is twice as high as the investment budget planned for the old project, abanonded because customers considered that the resulting aircraft would have been too similar to the existing A330.