Boeing and Airbus pulled in billions at this week’s Dubai Air Show, the biggest event of its kind in the Middle East and one of the few bright spots left for global aviation.It kicked off Sunday with a record deal for Boeing, more than $24 billion worth of 777s, sold to
Then on Tuesday, a deal between Airbus and Qatar Airways – one that almost didn’t happen, after a tortured and embarrassing few hours for Airbus.
At first reporters were called us in for a press conference, a big signing with Qatar Airways. But Qatar Airways didn’t show up. Then their CEO made a statement saying the deal had ‘stalled’ – that Airbus was “still learning how to make planes.”
Hours later they called the press back in and the deal got done, signing a package of 80 A320 NEOs, plus eight A380 Superjumbos, for a total catalogue price of $6.4 billion dollars.
“The important thing is that we have a deal…we’re very pleased with it,” Airbus COO John Leahy told Bloomberg. “If we have to wait a few extra hours for it then so be it.”
“Every airline has its requirements,” said Akbar Al Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways CEO and a man known for being picky with his specs. “Maybe I’m difficult. Or maybe I’m crazy,” he told reporters.
Al Baker blamed the hold up on ‘the lawyers,’ throwing a wrench in the deal. But from their final press conference it was clearly an issue over the planes themselves. Al Baker is known to be picky with his
specs; even as the deal was being signed he criticised the design of a different plane, the A350, and has had similar harsh words for Boeing in the past.
But then, Al Baker can afford to be choosy – Qatar Airways is expanding aggressively, he says a rate of 1 plane every 18 days, toward a fleet of 190 aircraft by 2016. It’s one of the ‘big three’ Arab carriers, Qatar Airways, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad, and Dubai’s Emirates Airlines, all of whom are buying up planes at a staggering pace. I asked Al Baker if he was worried about filling those planes – demand for all those seats.
He said he’s not worried in the slightest, or he wouldn’t buy them. After all, he said, “I’m buying planes. I’m not buying chocolates.”
Airbus picked up other deals – Kuwait’s Alafco and Spirit Airlines of Florida both making billion-dollars buys. But they didn’t add up to Boeing’s take home, keeping the US manufacturer in the lead over its
European rival, at least in the Gulf.
“There are over 300 Boeing aeroplanes on order in the Middle East,” said Boeing’s President for the Middle East, Jeff Johnson. “Even the passenger growth is 2-3% greater in the middle east, 7-10% compared to
a worldwide 5%.” For Boeing, the Gulf is even more important for its defence products – its V-22 Osprey helicopter on prominent display for Arab states looking for deadly hardware.
“The defence budget in the US is in decline, and it will be in decline for the next 5 years,” said Danny Sebright, head of the US-UAE Business Council. “This market, South America, and Asia will be the markets that US companies and European companies look to find growth.”