Qatar Airways used the COVID-19 phase to consolidate its strengths in the freighter space. Image Credit: AFP

Doha: Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said he's ready to order wide-body freighter planes from Airbus SE or Boeing Co. within a month or two if a new model is made available. The Gulf carrier could place a "large customer order" for an A350 freighter planned by European manufacturer Airbus or a new 777F from its US rival before the end of the third quarter, Al Baker told the FlightPlan III webinar.

Al Baker has lobbied for the aircraft before, but neither planemaker has committed to making a freighter version of the passenger jumbo-jets. His urgency highlights how important burgeoning cargo demand has become to airlines whose long-haul passenger markets remain blighted by the coronavirus crisis.

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Cargo is vital 

Qatar Airways has added new destinations and converted some planes for cargo-only operations. Bloomberg reported in June that Airbus is close to taking orders for the A350F if it can line up the commitments. The plane would provide the company with a contender in a market dominated by Boeing.

But Al Baker said an Airbus order would require a resolution to issues with the passenger version of the jet. Qatar Airways has said paint on some A350s is degrading faster than it should and that the issue must be fixed before it will take more deliveries.

Asked about the new 777X passenger plane, for which Qatar Airways is the launch customer, Al Baker said he is "very excited" about the model and that once Boeing launches a freighter variant, "we will be giving them the opportunity, together with Airbus freighters." On the A350 he cautioned: "That is, if Airbus resolves our issues very quickly."

Al Baker said last month that Qatar Airways is "really hungry for more freighters" but can't obtain the current 777F, which is based on Boeing's existing 777 model, until 2023.