Qatar Airways wants to swap Airbus A320neos for A321neos, new delivery date

DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar Airways is in talks with Airbus AIR.PA to convert its order for up to 80 A320neos to the larger A321neo, its chief executive said on Monday.

A flight test engineer holds an Airbus Group flag after the first flight of the Airbus A320neo (New Engine Option) in Colomiers near Toulouse, France, September 25, 2014. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

The airline has refused to accept four A320neos so far this year over performance issues with the aircraft’s engines, a spokeswoman told Reuters.

“We are in negotiations with Airbus about how we can continue our relationship and keep our order on track minus the ones that we canceled,” CEO Akbar al-Baker told Reuters on the sidelines of a news conference in Doha.

He said the airline wanted to take delivery of the larger A321neo jets from 2018 and was considering swapping the engine order to CFM, a joint venture between General Electric Co GE.N and Safran SA SAF.PA of France.

An Airbus spokesman declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

Qatar Airways has refused to accept planes with engines made by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp UTX.N, saying they required additional time to start under certain conditions.

The airline said in May it was cutting frequencies on more than a dozen routes from its Doha hub because of delivery delays of new aircraft from Airbus.

Qatar Airways announced on Oct. 7 an order for as much as $18.6 billion worth of Boeing BA.N jets, including a letter of intent for 60 narrow-body 737 MAX 8 jets valued at $6.9 billion. [nL2N1CD144]

The A320 and 737 compete in the largest segment of the aircraft market.

At least some of those 737 MAXs will go to Italy’s Meridiana, with which Qatar Airways is talking about taking a 49 percent stake, Al Baker said.

Italy’s second biggest airline would have “nearly 50 aircraft” within the first five years of Qatar Airways’ stake purchase, he said. The fleet would be a mix of either Airbus or Boeing wide body jets and 737s.

Al-Baker told Bloomberg on Nov. 6 that he expected to finalize the stake purchase in January. The deal is dependent on a number of unspecified conditions being met.

Writing by Alexander Cornwell; editing by Mark Potter and Jason Neely