What Boeing and Qatar Airways Could Announce Friday

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A spokeswoman for Qatar Airways said on Tuesday that the Doha-based carrier will  hold a joint press conference with Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) in Washington on Friday, and most observers expect an announcement for at least five 777-300ERs valued at around $1.7 billion at list prices.

A report last week at Bloomberg suggested the Qatar Airways order could total at least 30 Boeing 777 and 787 wide-body jets. Depending on the mix of planes, that order could be valued at near $7 billion.

A deal between Qatar Airways and Boeing has been in the works for months and a recent decision by the Obama administration to sell military jets to Qatar has apparently shaken loose the expected order from the country’s flagship airline. The airline currently flies 30 787s and 53 777s, with another six 777F freighters and 60 777X passenger jets on order. The 777X is not expected to go into production until 2019.

While the reported sales would help the company meet its book-to-bill target of 1 for this year, Boeing may strike a deal with the airlines to convert some of the 777X orders to orders for the current version of the 777. Boeing’s difficulty in taking orders for the 777 is no secret and if Qatar Airways would either order a quantity of the current planes in addition to the 777X order or swap some orders, Boeing could express its gratitude with a handsome price discount.

A 777-300ER lists for $339.6 million, a 777F freighter lists for $318.7 million and the 777X-9 will cost $400 million. There’s a lot of room to maneuver in there.

Another intriguing possibility for Friday’s announcement is a Qatar Airways order for Boeing’s soon to be delivered 737 MAX. Qatar Airways has no orders in place for the current version of the 737 or the new 737 MAX. The only 737 the airline ever owned was retired in 1994 and later scrapped.

Qatar Airways has ordered 32 Airbus A320neos, none of which has yet been delivered due to a performance issue with the Pratt & Whitney geared turbo-fan engine. The airline has cancelled delivery of three of the first four planes it was set to receive and it is not beyond imagination that Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker will place an order for the 737 MAX. A small order on Boeing would get Airbus’s attention; a large one would be a different matter.

At the same time, Qatar Airways has 33 unfilled orders for the Airbus A350-900 and 37 orders for the yet-to-be delivered A350-1000. It is no secret Al Baker is also quite displeased with Airbus’s failure to deliver the A350s. The delivery delay has been caused by slow delivery of interior fittings from Airbus’s own suppliers.

Al Baker called his airline’s relationship with Airbus “very strained” earlier this year, and said that the aircraft maker’s difficulties were “seriously affecting” the airline’s growth. Was he negotiating in the press or is he about to drop a bomb on Airbus? We’ll have a better idea after Friday’s joint press conference.

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