The battle between Boeing and Airbus shifted firmly to the freighter market at the Dubai Airshow this week. Now it looks like Qatar Airways will be the next customer for the two manufacturers to fight over, after both courted lessor ALC for their new cargo aircraft.

Qatar Airways is looking “seriously” at placing a large order for cargo aircraft, the Gulf airline’s chief executive said at the Dubai Airshow. 

“We are seriously looking at placing a large cargo order, a freighter order, because […] as we are also growing our freight business, we need to be sustainable in that and we are going to imminently place a large freighter order,” Akbar Al Baker told reporters at the Dubai Airshow on November 17, 2021, in comments cited by Reuters. 

Al Baker said that Boeing had already made an interesting offer, raising the prospect that Qatar Airways could be the launch customer for a freighter version of Boeing’s new 777X passenger aircraft. 

“Of course, I cannot tell you with whom we are going to place the order. But one thing I can say is that the proposal we have received from Boeing is very attractive to the airline,” Al Baker was quoted as saying. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and tight supply chains have boosted demand for air freight. Along with expected continuing demand from e-Commerce, many airlines are looking at expanding their cargo operations. 

Boeing said at the Dubai Airshow that it was in “advanced talks” with customers over a freighter version of the 777X, which made its international public debut at the airshow. 
 

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Boeing is in advanced talks with customers for a freighter version of the 777X and is adding new 737-800 passenger to freighter conversion lines
 

Airbus, meanwhile, announced lessor ALC as the launch customer for the freighter version of its A350 passenger plane on November 15, 2021, despite an attempt by Boeing to woo ALC.

ALC chief executive Steve Udvar-Hazy said on November 18, 2021 that Boeing had proposed the 777X freighter to the lessor. 

Udvar-Hazy said the 777X would come to market around 2028, later than the A350F, which is targeting entry into service for 2025.  

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Boeing pitched the 777X freighter version to ALC before the company decided to become a launch customer for the Airbus A350 freighter.
 

Still, maybe Boeing will have more luck with Qatar Airways, based on the comments by Al Baker and looking at the current composition of its current cargo fleet. 

“We don’t only look at the price, we look at the performance, and I think the aircraft that Boeing is developing will outperform the current fleet we have,” Al Baker said. 

Qatar Airways Cargo currently operates 26 Boeing 777-200 freighters, two Boeing 747-8 freighters and six Boeing 777-300ER mini freighters.  
 

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Lessor ALC is ordering 111 aircraft from Airbus across its range of types, including the first A350 freighters