Boeing’s 777X program has been beset with production problems. Originally slated to fly in 2019, delays have seen that pushed back to 2023. That has had repercussions among the airlines that have ordered the plane, including who flies the plane first. Qatar Airways recently claimed to have gone to the front of the queue, becoming the launch customer for the 777X. However, that is no longer the case.
Things change fast at Qatar Airways
Just last month, Simple Flying reported Qatar Airways had become the launch customer for the aircraft after Emirates intimated it might not receive the plane until 2025. In early April, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker said he expected to receive three 777Xs before the end of 2023.
“Qatar Airways is also the launch customer of the Boeing 777X aircraft and is actively working with Boeing on the design and performance specification for this new aircraft type.” Al Baker told a US-Qatari Business Council event
But a month is a long time in the airline business. In an exclusive webinar interview with Simple Flying on Wednesday, Akbar al-Baker said the situation had changed, and another airline would fly the 777X first.
“No, we won’t be the first one to operate the aircraft,” he told Simple Flying’s Joanna Bailey. “It will be someone else.”
Akbar Al Baker was unperturbed by the change, saying it was for the best. “They (the new 777X launch airline) can be the guinea pig, and then we will get the benefit.”
Simple Flying approached Boeing to see who the new 777X launch customer is now. Boeing has not responded before our publication deadline.
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Qatar Airways expects first 777X deliveries in 2022
Originally, Lufthansa and Emirates were to be the 777X launch customer. According to Boeing’s most recent order book, eight airlines and additional unidentified customers have ordered a total of 361 airlines. Qatar Airways has 60 Boeing 777Xs on order, split across an order for 50 planes in 2014 and another 10 in 2015.
But there is no guarantee Qatar Airways will take those 60 planes. Like most other airlines, Qatar Airways is busy reconfiguring their fleets and future orders. There are a variety of factors driving that industry-wide fleet reshuffling, 777X delivery delays being among them.
“I don’t think Boeing is going to delay this aeroplane beyond 2022,” Al Baker said. “I think next year they will start delivering, and Qatar Airways will take deliveries when they are ready to be delivered.”
Akbar Al Baker forecasts ongoing problems with aircraft deliveries
But having come this far with the 777X (Qatar’s initial order was seven years ago), Al Baker forecasts some further problems, not just with the 777X but with aircraft supply in general.
“There is huge pressure on the supply chain,” he said. “Due to this sudden production drop back by both airlines and aircraft manufacturers, when airlines want to delay the deliveries of their aircraft because of the downturn in business, it is putting a lot of pressure on the supply chain, especially smaller suppliers that supply small but vital parts on aeroplanes.”
The Qatar Airways CEO says governments in Europe and the United States are working to help suppliers navigate the current downturn in business and retain core production capabilities. But Al Baker says it is a challenge and not managed well, could have serious implications for future deliveries of 777X aircraft and other types.
“Sustaining the supply chain for aeroplanes, that is really the biggest threat for us getting our aircraft when we want them.”