Qatar Airways CEO: Happy To Be The Launch Customer Of The A350F

During Simple Flying’s webinar today, Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker stated that he would be delighted to call his airline the launch customer of an A350 cargo variant. It was at the end of April, during an earnings call, that Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury noted that Airbus is acutely aware that an opportunity exists for a new Airbus freighter.

Qatar Airways CEO: Happy To Be The Launch Customer Of The A350F
Qatar Airways was the launch customer of the Airbus A350 and operates both passenger variants of the type. Photo: Qatar Airways

“Soon replacing” the current freighter fleet

During the interview with Simple Flying’s Joanna Bailey, His Excellency Mr Akbar Al Baker was asked about his airline group’s interest in an Airbus A350F or Boeing 777X freighter. The Group CEO responded that he would be happy for his airline to take the title of ‘launch customer’ should the European planemaker launch a program, saying:

“Definitely, we will be at the front of the queue. We will be soon replacing our current fleet of freighters, and we would want to replace it with the best freighter that is available. We would be very happy to be the launch customer of the new variant…”

For the airline’s cargo division, Qatar Airways Cargo, the following dedicated freighter aircraft are active, according to data from ch-aviation:

  • Two Boeing 747-8Fs. One is eight years old while the other is just four years of age.
  • 24 Boeing 777-200Fs, with an average age of four and a half years. Just four of these aircraft are just above or below the 10-year-mark.

It should also be noted that the airline also has another two 777Fs have yet to be delivered. After taking some brand new 777Fs at the start of this year, the carrier had retired all of its Airbus A330-200Fs, some of which now fly for cargo firm CMA CGM via a contract with Air Belgium.

Qatar Airways CEO: Happy To Be The Launch Customer Of The A350F
To date, Airbus has only launched the A330-200 with a dedicated freighter variant. All other Airbus jets have been converted. This has left Boeing to dominate the purpose-built-freighter market. Photo: Qatar Airways

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The continual pursuit of a young and modern fleet

Interestingly, Al Baker mentions that his airline will be replacing its freighters soon. Indeed, looking at the average age of its dedicated cargo aircraft, they are relatively still young birds- especially when compared to shipping companies operating older aircraft such as the Airbus A300s or McDonnell Douglas MD-11.

However, it’s important to note two things:

  1. Akbar Al Baker and Qatar Airways is constantly in pursuit of having a young and efficient fleet and,
  2. It would take some time for Airbus to announce the A350F program, with additional time required to certify a jet and bring it to market.
Qatar Airways CEO: Happy To Be The Launch Customer Of The A350F
Qatar Airways took simultaneous delivery of three brand new Boeing 777Fs at the start of the year. Photo: Qatar Airways

On the first point, Al Baker stressed during the interview that sustainability was a key goal for Qatar Airways and that having an efficient fleet was key to operating in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.

It’s this goal that could see Qatar Airways Cargo favor a next-generation twinjet freighter over its quadjet 747s. The 747-8s might do a great job in terms of capacity, but the efficiency of an A350 freighter might be enough for Qatar Airways to leave them behind in a few years’ time.

The race for the next freighter

To date, Airbus has only ever offered the A330-200F as its only purpose-built freighter (ie, not requiring after-market conversion). This has left Boeing to dominate the freighter market. Thus, in this decade, it may end up competing with Airbus to build the next generation freighter should it choose to move forward with a 777X cargo variant.

Qatar Airways CEO: Happy To Be The Launch Customer Of The A350F
Cargo operations have proven increasingly important during the global health crisis. Photo: Qatar Airways

At the end of the day, it’s clear that whichever planemaker can launch the next freighter will find a customer with Qatar Airways. “I’m going to get a telephone call from both manufacturers,” Al Baker joked after announcing his offer to be a launch customer for the next new cargo jet.

Do you think a commitment from Qatar Airways and its CEO would be enough for Airbus to finally launch an A350F program? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.