Boeing to deliver on its word

With frustration over delays fading, focus is on customer service as a buying spree by Middle East airlines comes to a close.

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Boeing is preparing to shift its focus as a buying spree by Middle East airlines comes to a close and the US manufacturer gets down to the business of delivering hundreds of planes to its customers.

The global ambitions of the region's long-haul carriers and the blossoming of the nascent market for budget travel have boosted Boeing's order book by tens of billions of dollars between 2007 and this year. Most recently, Emirates Airline closed a 30-aircraft, US$9.1 billion (Dh33.42bn) order in July.

As a result, Boeing has grown its market share considerably and now counts Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, flydubai, Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Oman Air, Gulf Air and RAK Airways as major customers, bringing it closer to parity with Airbus on Middle East sales.

Most carriers have satisfied their fleet expansion needs for the coming decade, Marty Bentrott, the regional vice president of sales at Boeing, said during a visit to Dubai on Sunday.

Only the large US and European "legacy airlines" are expected to replace their ageing fleets with large orders in the years ahead.

"There will be selective opportunities but I don't anticipate any big large buys," he said. "Most of these airlines have pretty much built up their order book."

Despite its successes, Boeing also has unrealised opportunities. It has not added Emirates as a customer for its 787 Dreamliner because the Dubai airline prefers higher-density aircraft.

Similarly, there are still no concrete plans in the UAE capital for a budget airline, despite heavy speculation. "The question remains if there is going to be another start-up in Abu Dhabi," said Mr Bentrott.

Boeing finally has some breathing space to end almost three years of bad news over its much-anticipated but delayed 787 Dreamliner programme. The first deliveries are now expected in the middle of the first quarter of next year, after the latest delay caused by a Rolls-Royce test engine failure.

The delays have damaged Boeing in terms of financial compensation to airline customers, and hit the company's reputation.

"We left a lot of customers frustrated," said Mr Bentrott. Airline disappointment in the delayed programme peaked in June last year when Qatar Airways threatened to cancel its Dreamliner orders. But with more than 2,000 flight hours already logged by six test aircraft, Boeing believes anger over the delays has come to a close.

"I think the emotional disappointment of delay has subsided," said Mr Bentrott. "The biggest thing for us right now is the anticipation of the first 787 deliveries next year, and ensuring that our customers in this region are ready for those aeroplanes and are technically able to support them and introduce them into their fleet."

The Dreamliner, primarily built with composites, will be delivered first in the region to Qatar Airways, followed by Royal Jordanian in 2013 and Etihad in 2014. Major 777 deliveries are also scheduled throughout the decade to Emirates, while flydubai has another 40 737s set for delivery. In a bid to satisfy its existing customers Boeing is focusing on a range of initiatives, from ensuring that customers have the necessary spare parts, to developing new industrial suppliers from local firms, to boosting the performance of its platforms used on certain routes.

Boeing is working with Emirates to add about 200km to the range of its 777-300ER aircraft, which would allow the airline to use the aircraft on its Los Angeles service.

In Abu Dhabi, Boeing is negotiating agreements with Mubadala Aerospace to sign the company as an aircraft parts supplier.

"There is a growing set of expectations here that aside from acting as a supplier, we would also be partners to the UAE in various capacities that would help their economic development," said Mr Bentrott.