Qatar Airways CEO: Air Italy’s 737 MAX Aircraft Are Not Coming Back

It was in February 2020 that Air Italy announced its liquidation and the suspension of its operations. The Italian carrier was an operator of the 737 MAX and thus a victim of the MAX grounding in 2019. With a minority stake through a holding company, Qatar Airways’ order for 737 MAXs were destined for its Italian investment. Now that the Italian airline no longer exists, Qatar’s Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker says the MAXs will not be re-appearing in the Middle East.

Qatar Airways CEO: Air Italy’s 737 MAX Aircraft Are Not Coming Back
The Boeing 737 MAX is seen here, arriving in Air Italy livery in May 2018. Photo: Getty Images

Qatar Airways’ 737 MAX order

It was back in 2016 that Qatar Airways signed a Letter of Intent for up to 60 737 MAX 8s, valued at $6.9 billion at list prices. This announcement was paired with the news that the airline had placed an order for 30 787-9 Dreamliners and 10 777-300ERs, valued at $11.7 billion at list prices.

Qatar Airways eventually firmed up some of the 737 MAX orders mentioned in the letter of intent. In September 2017, Boeing pointed out that the airline had “20 737 MAX airplanes on order.” However, according to Boeing’s order book in May 2020, Qatar had ordered and received just five 737 MAX aircraft.

The Middle Eastern carrier never operated the narrowbody aircraft itself. Rather, the delivered jets were operated by Air Italy- of which Qatar Airways’ holding company AQA Holding, had a 49% stake.

But now that Air Italy no longer exists, some were left wondering if Qatar Airways might use the aircraft for its own operations out of Doha.

Qatar Airways CEO: Air Italy’s 737 MAX Aircraft Are Not Coming Back
Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar airways posing with Air Italy crew in front of a Boeing 737 MAX. Photo: Getty Images

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737 MAX order swapped

During a webinar interview with Simple Flying’s Joanna Bailey, His Excellency Mr Akbar Al Baker was asked about the possibility of Qatar Airways operating Air Italy’s 737 MAXs. Responding to the inquiry, Al Baker said,

“No, we have already swapped our order of 737s with Boeing and the aircraft that we have at the moment are already being given back to the lessors.”

Qatar Airways CEO: Air Italy’s 737 MAX Aircraft Are Not Coming Back
A 737 MAX mockup in Qatar Airways livery still exists on Boeing’s webpage for Qatar Airways. Photo: Boeing

Indeed, Qatar Airways is a huge Boeing customer, operating 38 787 Dreamliners, as well as nearly 60 passenger 777s. On the freight side, its cargo division operates a significant 777 freighter fleet and two 747-8Fs. Looking forward, the airline also has an order for 60 777X jets.

With this scale of patronage, the request to swap a number of narrowbodies should be a ‘no brainer’ move for Boeing (and the leasing companies inbetween) to agree with, in order to keep this major customer happy.

Qatar Airways’ narrowbody fleet will remain all-Airbus

Therefore, without Air Italy’s 737 MAXs returning to Qatar Airways, the airline will be strictly an Airbus operator when it comes to its narrowbody fleet. At the moment, Qatar Airways has the following narrowbodies:

  • 29 A320-200s
  • Three A321-200s
Qatar Airways CEO: Air Italy’s 737 MAX Aircraft Are Not Coming Back
Qatar Airways’ current narrowbody fleet is comprised of Airbus A320 family jets, including the A320 and A321. Photo: Qatar Airways

The carrier will eventually take delivery of the A321neo and A321LR. Of the latter, Airbus’ leadership made the following statement when Qatar Airways’ announced its order:

 “The A321LR will add a new level of flexibility to Qatar Airways’ operations. The aircraft will support the airline to better serve its existing network while equally accessing new long-haul markets with optimal performance and efficiency,” –Christian Scherer, Chief Commercial Officer, Airbus

Although the airline operates a fairly diverse fleet of aircraft, it seems like a wise move to avoid adding yet another type, which would add more complexity to its operations.

Do you think Qatar Airways should have held on to its 737 MAX order to operate the type in its fleet? Let us know in the comments.