Qatar: back with a vengeance, hyper long range next-gen A321? China Airlines ends 744 operations

Qatar blockade ends, restoring flights, routes and with a powerful legacy

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE (reluctantly) and Bahrain (almost as reluctantly after a recent spat over Bahreini fighters entering Qatar air space), have all agreed to lift their blockade. It has taken effect already but an agreement will be signed in the next few days. Kuwait was largely responsible for mediating the deal, but the US was deeply involved as the whole thing seriously compromised military operations in the Gulf. The US Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrein, while CENTCOM is based in a vast air base and command complex in Qatar.

The blockade was very unpopular in all the countries concerned, and Qatar never gave in it to any of their demands, but agreed to end its dispute claims in the WTO. While excuses were made as to why the blockade took place, it was largely due to a set of perceived mutual insults made by Saudi, Emirati and Bahreini Royal families against the Qatari royals who fired off similar comments back.

The whole thing has cost Qatar billions, which to be fair, it has plenty of. Qatar Airways may have lost some of the viability of its short haul routes but the rest it made up for using detours and Iranian air space. It has also left Qatar with an extraordinary fleet of 24 near new 777-F’s three of which were delivered on December 31st. It also took delivery of its 53rd A350 the same day, making it by far the largest operator of the type.

Three new 777-F’s all delivered on Dec 31st 2020

Qatar Airways Cargo now has an extraordinarily significant fleet of 30 aircraft, 24 777-F, 4 A332F and 2 748F’s. These give it an extraordinary cargo operation that combined with the huge space available on its 777’s, 787, and A350 fleets, makes it a major player in the air cargo market.

With land and sea borders now reopening and demand for air cargo will drop slightly, but with the airline having carved out a huge space in what remains a high demand market right now, it’s Cargo operation is surely the most significant in the Middle East and South Asia. Not only that but its ownership stake in IAG and Heathrow and its relationship with BA, for whom it pretty much operates all large cargo operations, leaves it in a powerful position in Europe too.

It doesn’t stop there in the passenger market the airline has been flying as much as it can, its vastly increased its code share operations with Oman Air and LATAM amongst others and is even planning a new route to Seattle, on top of a slew of others and expansion of existing routes as soon as the demand rises.

They also haven’t stopped plans for new seats and product offerings, investing in the airline has pressed ahead regardless of Covid. The real strategy seems to be that they feel they can beat Emirates at their own game, using the right aircraft on multiple interconnecting destinations for their hub at Doha, literally stealing the market from an airline that might just find itself burdened with A380’s and 773ER’s and no market to fill them.

GE Powered next-gen A321?

Could this or something similar be what Airbus are planning the GE engines for?

Airbus and General Electric have confirmed now that Airbus has asked GE for an advanced medium sized engine suitable for an A321 sized aircraft, capable of far longer ranges and greater economies than currently exist.

It seems they’re looking at a next-gen engine to fit some kind of updated A321 type aircraft . My Airbus contact tells me this is quite a serious proposal, and that Airbus are tired of the problems at Rolls Royce, feeling that GE is best suited to deliver the goods on such a project. Now suggestions that GE would be involved on a re-engined A350 have been going around for a while, but I’m told its unlikely to be for such a large aircraft. It really is for something that smacks very much of being competitor for the still not launched but surely must come NMA ‘797-X’ from Boeing.

Part of the willingness to engage GE stems from Britain’s exit from the EU, and the complexity of doing business with the UK is now little different to doing it anywhere else, so any in-EU cost savings have gone. Rolls Royce is also struggling to finance its new developments and has suffered crucifying damage to its reputation with the Trent-1000 saga on 787’s; so much so that many airlines changed their specification to the GE variant wherever they could for later aircraft, Air New Zealand amongst them.

China Airlines to end 744 passenger operations

Taiwan based China Airlines which has stored its remaining 4 operational 747-409 passenger aircraft since March last year is to formally retire the type on February 6th with one last ‘fan-flight’.

It will continue to operate as many as 18 744F in the cargo role.

China Airlines is expected to be rebranded with a new name at some stage in the near future, as the technically rebel island democracy tries its best to keep out of China’s communist paws. The future of the island is a major point of contention – China claims it, but the United States is legally bound to defend it. The people of Taiwan would prefer independence and formal secession from China, but doing so would immediately spark a war and a Chinese attempt to conquer the island.

In the meantime, even the smallest acts of rebellion, such as rebranding the airline are seen as deeply provocative to the communist mainland, and tend to occur slowly, although Taiwan’s parliament has approved the move.

“Sci-fi space opera at its best”