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Qatar Airways says A350 delivery on schedule; plans order in Dubai

By Amena Bakr and Praveen Menon

DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar Airways, the launch customer for Airbus's A350, expects the European planemaker to start delivering the aircraft by the second half of next year and plans to order more planes next month, the airline's chief executive said on Tuesday.

The Gulf carrier has ordered 80 A350 jets.

"We are confident that Airbus will deliver the A350 by the second half of 2014," Akbar al Baker said on the sidelines of an event to mark Qatar Airways' entry into an airline alliance.

His comments were in line with Airbus's program chief Didier Evrard, who had said earlier that the aim was to deliver the lightweight aircraft in the second half of 2014.

The A350, designed to compete with Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and the larger Boeing 777, staged its maiden flight in June. Airbus now has two aircraft flying and has notched up 75 flights and over 370 hours of flight tests.

Last week, Boeing's chief executive acknowledged that the 787 had below average dispatch reliability - which refers to how often a plane leaves on time. But al-Baker said that was not the case with the aircrafts owned by Qatar Airways.

"We have above average reliability with our 787s because we take care of them."

He added that the airline was not interested in the new stretched version of the Dreamliner, the 787-10X.

"We are not interested in the 10X because the size and economies of the plane are similar to the 350-900," he said.

By the end of the year, Airbus aims to freeze the design of the largest member of the A350 family, the 350-seat A350-1000. The aircraft is due to enter service in mid-2017, some three years ahead of a larger revamped version of Boeing's 777.

On Tuesday, Qatar Airways joined oneworld, an alliance which includes British Airways, as the Gulf carrier looks to expand its global reach through partnerships.

One of its rivals, Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways, has forged several codeshare agreements with Skyteam member Air France , while Emirates has agreed to co-operate with Australia's Qantas.

MORE ORDERS

Qatar Airway's al-Baker said the airline would place another plane order during the Dubai Airshow next month, billed one of the largest industry events in the region. "I won't tell you what the order is, but there will be one," he said.

Qatar Airways is among several major carriers being courted by Boeing as it finalizes plans for a larger version of its profitable 777 wide-body jet, which is expected to be launched at the Dubai Airshow.

But al-Baker said last week the airline was not interested in ordering the 777X wide-body jet.

"We don't know anything about the airplane. We can't just compare with the size of aircraft. We are just waiting for Boeing to offer us the aircraft and to show us what the aircraft is going to do," he said.

Etihad is close to placing an order that could kick off a $50 billion jet-buying spree from the Gulf. It is expected to buy 25-30 of the 777X jets and place a repeat order for its 787 Dreamliner.

Al-Baker also said Qatar Airways was still interested in Bombardier Inc's C-Series jetliner.

"We are still interested in the C-Series but only when we see bigger orders to make sure it's a sustainable program," said al-Baker.

He added the carrier would not buy any more Airbus A380 aircraft, adding it has 13 jets on order the first of which would be delivered in April.

NO EXIT PLAN

Asked if he would leave his post in Qatar Airways soon, al-Baker said dismissed this as "false talk" spread by "enemies".

"I'm a soldier of my government. This talk as been spread to demotivate staff, the decision for me to stay or go is dependent on my ruler," he told reporters.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani took over from his father as Qatar's ruler in June, and since then, several top jobs have changed hands including the posts of prime minister, finance minister, and the chief executives of sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority and Qatar National Bank .

Analysts believe Sheikh Tamim wants to put his stamp on the wealthy state's financial management team, and may adjust Qatar's flamboyant overseas investment strategy in order to focus more on developing the domestic economy.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon and Amena Bakr; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Mark Potter)

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