Qatar again flags interest in 777X freighter variant

written by Hannah Dowling | April 7, 2021
A Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER taxiing at Canberra Airport. (Seth Jaworski)
A Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300ER taxiing at Canberra Airport. (Seth Jaworski)

Qatar Airways has again flagged interest in a potential future Boeing 777X freighter variant, as Boeing continues to be weighed down by delays on its 777X passenger jet program.

Qatar’s chief executive Akbar Al Baker stated that the airlines would “definitely be interested to look into” a freighter version of the upcoming large, wide-body, long-range Boeing 777X.

Al Baker suggested that by the time Boeing, or Airbus for that matter, is prepared to release its newest freighter variant, the Gulf airline will be looking to start replacing the oldest of its Boeing 777 fleet.

Qatar has long supported the 777X program, and currently has 65 of the passenger variant 777X on order with Boeing.

The airline is currently anticipating to take delivery of the first three of its 777X orders in 2023, three years later than the initial planned delivery date, in light of a longer and more expensive certification process.

The airline’s cargo operations also boast 24 Boeing 777 freighters in its fleet.

Boeing was forced to delay its 777X program to ensure the jet meets stricter quality control standards in light of the 737 MAX certification fiasco.

Al Baker also made comments to urge engine-maker GE to invest in “future technology engines sooner than later,” citing an airline industry carbon neutral growth commitment in 2050.

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The Boeing 777X features engine-maker GE’s latest GE9X engines.

“When you look at how long things take to develop, 2050 is not far away,” Al Baker said.

This week’s comments were not the first time that Qatar has made its intentions to purchase a freighter version of the 777X clear.

At the 2019 Paris Air Show, Al Baker was reported stating the carrier was eager to become the launch customer of a freighter version of the largest iteration of Boeing’s ‘mini jumbo’ jet.

“By 2025, our initial freighters will be getting about 10 years old, so we will need to replace them,” Al Baker said at the time.

“Hopefully, Boeing will launch a 777X-based freighter.”

“I hope that Boeing will do what the customer wants, so it will have more efficient freighters. We would also like to be the launch customer, because of the confidence we have in Boeing,” he added.

While Boeing is yet to confirm or deny if it intends to invest in a 777X freighter, pressure is mounting for it to do so.

Additionally, last month sources suggested that Airbus had begun gauging the interest of airlines and customers for a potential future freighter version of its A350 wide-body passenger jet.

The COVID-19 crisis has not only increased demand for e-commerce, but also the movement of medical goods and supplies, which has seen freight demand skyrocket around the world.

Further, as more than half of the world’s cargo is usually carried in the bellies of passenger jets, the COVID crisis has necessitated a significantly larger number of dedicated freighter aircraft.

According to sources close to the matter, Airbus is thus investigating current market demand for a ready-built A350 freighter.

A new A350 freighter would be the first dedicated freighter released by Airbus since its A330-200F, which launched in early 2010, the first of its newest-generation carbon-fibre jets to become a dedicated freighter.

Sources also expect that any announcement from Airbus regarding a move towards a new dedicated freighter would push Boeing to follow suit, potentially with the development of a 777X freighter.

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