Qatar Airways Announces Massive Boeing Order

qatar-787At a press conference in Washington, DC on Friday morning, Qatar Airways announced an order for 30 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and 10 777-300ERs, valued at $11.7 billion at list prices. The airline also signed a Letter of Intent for up to 60 737 MAX 8s, valued at $6.9 billion at list prices. This is clearly an intentional shot to the gut of rival manufacturer, Airbus.

Today’s announcement builds on Qatar Airways’ current fleet of 84 Boeing aircraft, a combination of 787s and 777s, all delivered over the last nine years. With this new order, Qatar Airways increases its firm order backlog of Boeing widebody airplanes from 65 to 105, including 60 777Xs. The slower sales of the 777-300ER this year mean that Qatar probably received a handsome discount on these planes.

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Business Class on Qatar Airways 787-8 Dreamliner (photo: author)

“Qatar Airways, already one of the fastest growing airlines in the history of aviation, today announces a significant and historic aircraft order that will power our future growth for the years and the decades ahead,” said Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker. “Boeing has proven to be a valuable partner, and today’s announcement is testament to our appreciation of the quality of their product and their dedication to providing world class customer service.”

Al Baker has been passionately vocal about the issues his airline has experienced with Airbus this year. Qatar declined to take delivery of its first A320NEO aircraft, due to lingering problems with its Pratt & Whitney 1100G engines. The airline was supposed to be the launch customer for the A320NEO, but Lufthansa ended up taking first delivery once Qatar backed away. Since then, it has been received by six other airlines, including Air Asia, IndiGo, GoAir, Pegasus, Viva Aerobus, and Volaris.

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Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker with Boeing’s Ray Conner

Qatar still has A320NEO orders on the books with Airbus, but they sent a very clear message about their dissatisfaction by signing a letter of intent (LOI) to purchase up to sixty Boeing 737 MAX-8s along with the firm order for the 777s and 787s this morning.

Qatar was the first to operate the 787 in the Middle East and is a launch customer for the 777X. With the commitment for the 737 MAX 8, it would be the first Boeing single-aisle airplane model to join Qatar Airways’ fleet in more than 15 years. The airline previously flew Boeing 727s.

“Congratulations to The Boeing Company and Qatar Airways on the remarkable milestone they’ve reached, which will significantly grow the number of Boeing aircraft in the Qatar Airways fleet,” said U.S. Secretary of CommercePenny Pritzker. “Beyond its importance for these two companies, this agreement demonstrates the importance of global commercial partnerships in strengthening our bilateral ties. This deal will strengthen economic opportunity and job creation, and highlights the importance of strong global trading relationships.”

“We are so very proud that a discerning and market-leading customer like Qatar Airways not only continues to endorse our current products, but  also has confidence in Boeing’s new technology that will soon be evident on the 777X and 737 MAX,” said  Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner. “Our partnership with Qatar Airways has grown and strengthened tremendously over the years and I look forward to the time when its fleet will feature an increasing number of both our single and twin-aisle airplanes.”

In his remarks, Al Baker said, “Boeing’s competitors [Airbus] don’t want me saying this, but inside they know this is true: Boeing makes the best airplanes.” However, passengers might beg to differ as it is widely known among industry analysts that the economy seats in the Airbus A320NEO and A350XWB are wider and thus more comfortable.

Having flown with Qatar Airways a handful of times myself, it is exciting to see them continuing to advance their fleet growth. Though the Airbus A320NEO and A350-XWB are wider and thus more comfortable for economy class passengers, the airline has made growth and route expansion a priority. After all, few passengers will bother to research things like seat width between different aircraft types – but they should.

 

Fish Out of Water! Southwest Promotes Shark Week

For the first time since late 2015, Southwest Airlines is flying a Boeing 737 featuring sea creatures, by partnering with the Discovery Channel to promote Shark Week. The 737-700, registered N422WN will fly for Southwest until August 31st this year.

Southwest Shark Week 2

“Now more than ever, brands have to be creative and unique in their approach to reach new Customers,” said Linda Rutherford, Chief Communication Officer for Southwest Airlines. “Partnering with Discovery’s Shark Week allows Southwest to connect with our Customers in a fun and memorable way. Only on Southwest can you enjoy this Shark Week experience, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Shark Week will air on Discovery Channel from June 26 – July 3rd. Southwest’s passengers will be able to view a Shark Week episode on Southwest’s flights for the whole month of June. Passengers and aviation geeks who see the Shark Week plane are encouraged to share photos with @SouthwestAir and @SharkWeek on Twitter, using the hashtag #sharkstakeflight and may receive special Shark Week gifts for doing so.

Enter the Dare to Dive Sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (PVR), including roundtrip air travel for four on Southwest, a $2,000 hotel gift card, and a $1,000 Visa gift card to put toward an aquatic excursion for the entire family. For full rules and to enter for a chance to win, visit Southwest.com/SharkWeek.

For nearly thirty years, Southwest flew 737s painted with Sea World’s famous “Shamu” Orca, and more recently, one with penguins as well. However, those aircraft were all repainted near the end of 2015, when Southwest discontinued its partnership with Sea World, following backlash over a documentary film about Orcas living in captivity.

Boeing Launches Paper Planes to Kick off 100th Anniversary

Later this summer, Boeing will mark 100 years of changing the way humans move around the world, and the company has begun the celebration by unveiling some new airplane designs. But these planes aren’t ones that you’ll ever get to fly on — they’re the kind you fold and launch using your own muscle power.

The Flypaper Project” as it’s called, resulted in ‘the most aerodynamically engineered posters in the world.’  Boeing founder, Bill Boeing is known for saying “Build Something Better,” so Boeing asked their own engineers to submit designs for a better paper airplane. The company says getting young people to build a flying object with their own hands can help rekindle the wonder of flight, and inspire them to contribute to the future of aerospace.

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The designers found the influence for their designs from encounters with engineering early in their childhood. Alexandra Sonnabend said she took apart toasters and vacuum cleaners as a kid, just to see how they work. As a female engineer, she also enjoys challenging the gender-based stereotype. Elizabeth Benson designed two of the Flypaper planes. She also liked to take things apart at a young age, and was taken on a Boeing tour by her father when in Middle School. Mahesh Changalva’s career in engineering was influenced as a kid in the 1970s, by an old issue of LIFE magazine about the first lunar landing. He say there was “no turning back” once he realized that engineering is what it took to get humans to the Moon.

The paper airplane designs were turned into poster art, making the design pleasing to the eye whether folded for flight, or hung on a wall. Boeing says they will distribute the posters to schools for education outreach programs, as well as make them available for purchase at Boeing stores.

New Delta Interior is Attractive, Roomy, and Confusing

Immediately upon boarding my Delta Air Lines flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Denver, I noticed some very different and appealing changes. First, I noticed the 12-year old Airbus A319 had new overhead stow bins, hanging down low and allowing far more capacity than I’ve seen on a narrow-body airliner before. Inside each bin, there is an instructive graphic, telling passengers to turn their bags onto their sides, allowing optimal room for up to sixty percent more bags, according to Delta. Not everyone got the message, however, as many bags were still placed in the bins width-wise. And although the Delta gate agent had advertised the fact that the flight was full and solicited volunteers for complimentary gate checks, there was still ample storage in several bins for additional bags.

New passenger service unit (PSU) on Delta's A319
New passenger service unit (PSU) on Delta’s A319

The Passenger Service Unit is a big improvement, aesthetically. With cabin lights on, the portion of the PSU against the ceiling glows a pleasant blue, thanks to its surrounding LED lights. But unfortunately, the new design is proving challenging. After the cabin lights were dimmed, there were at least a dozen inadvertent presses of the Flight Attendant call light, as passengers searched for the buttons to turn on their reading lights. The reading lights have a lightbulb icon, just above the black button which turns the light on. The button is quite difficult to see in an otherwise dark cabin. When the call button is pressed, the surrounding LED glows orange. The PSU also features a blue glowing Wi-Fi icon that appears above 10,000 feet. 

New overhead bins in Delta's A319 are HUGE! (Image via Delta)
New overhead bins in Delta’s A319 are HUGE! (Image via Delta)

The cabin is configured with 132 total seats, including 12 first class, 18 Comfort Plus, and 102 slimline main cabin seats. Each seat has Panasonic In-flight Entertainment, including movies (priced from free to $6), TV shows ($1), music, games, fleet information and flight tracking. Each row also has two power outlets. Kids’ movies are free, which is a huge plus for parents. Headsets can be purchased for $2. Inflight Wi-Fi is provided by Gogo and can be purchased.

Panasonic IFE screen on Delta's refurbished A319
Panasonic IFE screen on Delta’s refurbished A319

Zodiac Aerospace designed the updated new galleys, seats and PSU. The first A319 to receive the upgrade rolled out in late July. Retrofit of the A319 and A320 fleet is expected to continue until summer, 2017.

Sky Fight! Boutique Air vs. Vegas McCarran Airport

Part 135 operator Boutique Air has thrown down the gauntlet before McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, by publicizing a feud over Boutique’s desire to operate scheduled service into McCarran. In an open-letter email from Boutique Air CEO Shawn Simpson to Clark County Director of Aviation Rosemary A. Vassiliadis, Simpson says the airport (LAS) is being downright discriminatory.

Boutique Air had planned to begin service from Merced, California to LAS on Sunday, November 1st, but there is currently no flight schedule on their website. The airport states that Boutique many only fly sterile operations into LAS, at Terminal 1. The airline wished to operate non-sterile flights, into a FBO.

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In his letter, Simpson points out, “We have never encountered any resistance by any airport in conducting scheduled service between smaller communities with larger hubs, until now…The problem is that it is not the place of a public airport funded by federal tax dollars, to tell an airline what type of operations they are willing to accept. It is the duty of a public airport to accommodate all operations that are safe and do not disrupt the normal operation of the airport.  Somehow none of the other airports where we conduct non-sterile operations [including DFW and ABQ] have a problem with us. In fact, they welcome us.”

Simpson also notes that McCarran has been the recipient of federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants for runway and taxiway refurbishment for the past five years, amounting to over $109 Million. The reception of AIP grant money prohibits LAS from being discriminatory with its policies, but Simpson alleges that because the customers from Merced would be mostly Hispanic, that they’re being shut out: “What I am hearing though, is that the largely Hispanic community of the Central Valley will not be allowed to fly into McCarran via Merced because Boutique Air is not allowed to come in non-sterile.” Simpson goes on to day that Boutique is on the verge of serving the Native American community of Gallup, New Mexico, where they would potentially want to offer flights to LAS.

McCarran accepts the non-sterile operation of dozens of private jets each day, to and from FBOs, but the scheduled operation of Boutique’s single-engine Pilatus PC-12s is for some reason forbidden, other than being “against airport policy.” The latest response from LAS told Boutique Air that if they want to offer non-sterile flights to Vegas, perhaps they should use North Las Vegas Airport. A win for Boutique Air in Las Vegas would be a win for the air travel consumer.

747 Captain Wins 2015 Red Bull Air Race Championship

Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas, Paul Bonhomme captured his record-setting third Red Bull Air Race World Championship. Bonhomme is well-known for his aerobatic skills, but he also happens to be a 747 Captain for British Airways.

At the post race conference, Bonhomme said, “I knew it was going to be hard work, everyone was on their game. We seemed historically to come out of the blocks well… that was pleasing, then it was pretty obvious that everyone else was catching up. Up until 3 o’clock this afternoon, I had no idea what was going to happen.”

Photo courtesy Red Bull Media
Photo courtesy Red Bull Media

Bonhomme won four of eight races this year, taking the 2015 Championship by five points, over Australian Matt Hall. Hall won this weekend’s race in Las Vegas, with Bonhomme taking second. Third place for the 2015 season went to Austrian pilot Hannes Arch. Captain Bonhomme, age 51, has been flying on the Red Bull circuit since 2003, and is the most successful pilot in the Race’s history. He got his pilot’s license at age 18, and has been flying aerobatics for 29 years. American pilot Kirby Chambliss finished 12th in Las Vegas, and 11th overall for the 2015 series. He spent much of the 2015 season making adjustments to his Zivko Edge 540, including winglets and a new canopy.

Peter Besenyei. Photo courtesy Red Bull Media.
Peter Besenyei. Photo courtesy Red Bull Media.

Also this weekend in Las Vegas, the Race also celebrated the career of 59 year-old pilot Peter Besenyei, of Hungary. Besenyei has retired from competitive flying with 22 podium finishes over nine seasons, including eight victories, and the inaugural world title in 2003. He is known as one of the pioneers of the sport.

Avgeek DREAM Come True — My First Boeing 787 Flight

I finally took my very first flight on board a Boeing 787 Dreamliner! I’ve been following this aircraft since it was on the drawing board, and still called the 7E7. I joined the World Design Team and participated in the naming contest, though “Dreamliner” did not get my vote. In 2008. my wife and I even made a special Seattle detour prior to an Alaskan cruise, just to see the first 787 (ZA001) on the assembly line in Everett.

I had toured a couple of 787s in the past, including test aircraft ZA003 during Boeing’s World Dream Tour at DFW, and British Airways’ first 787-8, G-ZBJA, but I had yet to fly on one until this week. My inaugural flight was aboard British Airways’ first 787-9 Dreamliner, G-ZBKA.

My trip was part of a media assignment for AirwaysNews, and my full trip report will be on that site very soon. But here, I just wanted to share my experience in a more personal way, and reflect on some notes that I found interesting.

Before my flight, I had always made the assumption that the dimmable, electromagnetic window shades were more of a gimmick than something that was really necessary. This flight completely changed my mind! Leaving Heathrow, I sat in seat 1A, which had the sun on my side during the first half of the flight. I dimmed my window shortly after takeoff. The first couple of steps still allow you to see outside with a lot of detail, but without being blinded by direct sun. It became pleasant to look outside. With the window completely darkened, it wasn’t a full blackout, but the sunlight now appeared as moonlight, making the cloud tops glow beneath us as we soared over the North Atlantic.

British Airways' 787-9 First Class. Photo by Paul Thompson.
British Airways’ 787-9 First Class. Photo by Paul Thompson.

Everything about the flight was excellent, from the quiet cabin to the service by the flight attendants, the seat comfort, and entertainment options. As you’ll see in the photo above, the seat area is spacious, and appointed with high-end materials and features. Once again, there will be many more details about the trip on AirwaysNews, so please check it out.

I’ll have more 787 experience in the weeks to come, including a trip to the other side of the world, so stay tuned for that!