x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Qatar Airways considers boosting its short-haul fleet

Gulf carrier plans to add to the 200 aircraft already penciled in on its order book.

Qatar Airways is considering adding to its order book of 200 aircraft, worth US$40 billion (Dh146.91bn), with a purchase of single-aisle planes from Airbus or Bombardier this year. The full-service airline wants to beef up its short-haul flights in the Middle East and to the Indian subcontinent. These feed traffic into its lucrative long-haul routes to Asia and Europe. New engine technology on a proposed upgrade to the Airbus A320, as well as Bombardier's new CSeries aircraft promise to improve operating costs and reduce carbon dioxide emissions in both planes, Qatar Airways has said.

"We continue discussions with Bombardier about a possible CSeries order this year," Akbar al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, told Flightglobal, a UK aviation trade magazine. "We are also waiting to hear what Airbus is going to do, as Qatar Airways wants to operate leading-edge technology to get the best seat-mile costs and lowest greenhouse emissions." The airline is one of several Gulf carriers that are investing heavily in new aircraft to redistribute global air travel through their Middle East hubs. Airbus officials have said the company hopes to decide on the launch of the new A320 family by this summer to offer savings of 15 per cent in fuel efficiency.

Qatar Airways could choose either aircraft or purchase both of them this year, Mr al Baker said. A CSeries order would provide a huge boost to the Canadian airframe maker, which has lined up just two customers so far: Lufthansa of Germany and Republic Airways of the US. A third order with Qatar Airways would bring a profitable end to an off-again, on-again campaign with the Doha-based airline. Talks broke down last year when Bombardier's offer did not meet the airline's "stringent" commercial requirements, Mr al Baker has said.

Gary Scott, the president of Bombardier's commercial aircraft division, said the Middle East offered huge potential for the new CSeries, which seats between 100 and 145 passengers and uses new power-plant technology called a geared turbofan to deliver a 20 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency. "It's an aeroplane that is ideally suited for this region because it is the right size," Mr Scott said last November at the Dubai Airshow.

He noted it was able to fly from the Middle East to northern Europe, southern Africa and south Asia. Mr Scott said he was "encouraged" by the discussions with Qatar Airways and understood the airline's strategy of evaluating the Bombardier aeroplane while also challenging Airbus to develop a new variant. "If I were Qatar or anybody else, I would do the same thing. They should leverage this." @Email:igale@thenational.ae