CAPE TOWN Qatar Airways will not be a launch customer for Boeing's (BA.N) next passenger jet, a stretched version of its 787 Dreamliner, its chief executive said on Tuesday.
Qatar Airways, one of the world's fastest growing carriers, has expressed interest in the 323-seat 787-10X, prompting speculation that it would be among the first batch of buyers.
"We like launching aircraft but not every aircraft. We are not a supermarket," Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker told Reuters.
Launch customers usually get favorable pricing to kickstart new projects, though the fanfare of launch is not without risk because early aircraft tend to be heavier and require closer attention in order to ensure reliability.
Boeing is expected to announce a formal launch of the aircraft as soon as the June 17-23 Paris Airshow, although the timing is uncertain. Boeing simply says that the launch could be within months, subject to board approval.
The launch of the 787-10X - which will drop the working "X" from its name once it is launched - is part of a growing struggle between Airbus and Boeing for wide-body jet orders as airlines look to renew and expand their long-haul fleets.
The stretched 787-10X will compete with the A350-900, the main model of Airbus's newest jet family. Boeing also hopes it will cut short a renaissance of the older Airbus A330, which has sold well during a three-year development delay of the 787.
The program received an unexpected early boost when Singapore Airlines (SIAL.SI) placed a provisional order for 30 aircraft last week, subject to the final go-ahead. Boeing is expected to assemble a handful of other buyers to launch the aircraft with a fanfare.
Boeing has started assembly of the 787-9, a larger version of the plane in service. The 787-10 would be larger still.
Manufacturers often stretch or lengthen aircraft designs once new models have entered service to lower operating costs per seat, a crucial measure of success for airlines.
More passengers means a shorter range but lower fuel cost per seat, making it attractive to fly on routes that do not cover the full distance offered by the smaller basic model.
Europe's Airbus EAD.PA was meanwhile expected to start taxi trials on Tuesday of its new A350, built with similar lightweight technology to the 787 that offers fuel savings to airlines.
Industry experts say the jet seems on course to make a maiden flight late next week, just before the air show, where it could also make a brief flypast if tests go according to plan.
Airbus says the aircraft will fly when crews are ready.
(This story was refiled to add dropped words "as soon as" in paragraph 5)
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Louise Heavens)