Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker talking to reporters at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai yesterday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Qatar Airways could cancel a $6.4 billion (Dh23.5 billion) order with the Airbus Group if issues with the European plane maker’s A320neo are not resolved by the summer.

The Middle East’s second largest airline was supposed to be the launch carrier for Airbus’ new A320 model but refused to take delivery in December over engine cooling issues. It is now deciding whether it should scrap the order for 80 A320neos and opt for just as many Boeing 737 aircraft.

“Look, at the end of the day we will be prepared to walk away at any cost because that cost is lower than what the airline is today facing,” Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker told reporters on Tuesday.

A decision on whether to cancel the order and to take the 737s instead will be made by the summer, he said in Dubai at the Arabian Travel Market.

Reuters reported on Monday that Qatar Airways could take four to six Boeing 737 aircraft as it waits for the A320neos to be ready, citing Al Baker, but on Tuesday he said that would not be the case.

“It will definitely not be four and five because we never bought four and five,” he said.

Asked if Qatar Airways could order 80 737s instead, he said “potentially, yes.”

“We can take 737NGs and then convert it as part of the deal to take the MAX,” he said referring to the new model 737 that is scheduled to come into service in 2017.

The issues with the A320s are software related and concern the aircraft hydraulics, according to Al Baker who also said they have found other problems though declined to mention them.

“This is an Airbus problem,” he said.

The Qatar Airways chief claims the delay in taking delivery of the A320neos has hurt the airlines growth by “more than 5 per cent.” He declined to say what the financial impact had been.

“This is a very sensitive issue … we are serious because we are an airline and we need to grow so we cannot be at the mercy of any aircraft manufacturer,” he said.

Qatar Airways had said it would look at switching the Pratt & Whitney-made engines it ordered with the A320neos for CFM International engines but those wouldn’t be suitable, Al Baker said.

“CFM still needs time. The engine is not where it should be and they know it. So we have to look at alternatives,” he said.

Qatar Airways is also looking at growing its network in Iran to as many as seven cities, including to Isfahan, up from three today, following the lifting of nuclear related sanctions in January.

“Iran is a real economic giant of our region,” Al Baker said.

“There will be a tourism boom once they get their act together and have proper infrastructure in place,” he said equating Iran’s future tourism industry to that of France and the United Kingdom.