For years now – yes years – Mr Al Baker has been waxing and waning on the Pratt & Whitney geared fan engine. Back in 2009 he went so far as to say that the GTF on the A320 would “kill the CSeries”. Well here we are and he has ordered the A320 with the GTF. And as if that was not enough, he shared the following comment today at the Dubai air show “I was sure I’d be asked the bloody CSeries question”. By all accounts today’s Qatar Airways and Airbus press event was not to be missed.
Well of course the CSeries question was going to come up. Having selected the A319neo, Qatar has essentially made a selection that leaves no room for CSeries. Industry observers wonder about the mercurial Mr Al Baker. There was a common understanding that Canada gave his airline access to Montreal (but no new access to his main rival Emirates) as an incentive to buy the Montreal-built CSeries. But this was seemingly another of the tactics he has used to get what he wants. Mr Al Baker’s tactics are well known – the recent “behind the scenes” but obvious involvement with the 747-8F delivery to Cargolux is an example. Today he was less than polite about Airbus. Even as he called off the press conference, it was but a short while later that news emerged anyway – Qatar is buying a bunch of Airbus planes.
The neos ordered are coming with Pratt’s GTF engines. So was there anything to the earlier negative comments about the engine’s maintenance? Probably not – it was the usual tactic. Today’s actions by Mr Al Baker have clearly tested relationships – Airbus’ John Leahy said of Mr Al Baker at the show today “Some people negotiate in front of the press, some in a conference room.” Mr Al Baker’s order that nearly wasn’t is worth $6.4bn at retail – “but Mr Al-Baker does not pay list prices” said John Leahy.
Having thoroughly irritated Boeing less than a month ago, he has now done the same to Airbus. Even if he buys a lot of planes is dealing with him worth it? Truth is that Mr Al Baker is becoming an industry caricature. Want an example? When Mr Leahy politely mentioned Mr Al Baker’s professionalism a journalist at the press conference let out huge laugh – to be joined by the rest of the crowd. It seems that Mr Al Baker is in a race with Michael O’Leary to see who can get on the “do not supply” list. He is sure to be climbing the “closer to retail” scale.
The tactics can be funny for a while. But they wear thin. On asked how Qatar is going to deal with its A350-1000 order (with which Mr Al Baker is predictably unhappy), he said “we will carry out those discussions in private”. To which Mr Leahy snorted “What a great idea”!