* Qatar CEO says believes battery meltdowns were one-offs
* Says confident Boeing will get 787 in the air soon
By Tim Hepher
BERLIN, March 6 (Reuters) - Qatar Airways backed Boeing’s proposals for getting its grounded 787 Dreamliner passenger jet back in service, but suggested on Wednesday that it would seek compensation over the crisis which has left 4 percent of its fleet idle.
The Gulf airline’s chief executive said he believed two battery meltdowns that led to the grounding of the high-tech jet were one-off events rather than evidence of a deeper safety problem.
“I still have confidence they will get the aircraft in the air in the not too distant future,” Akbar Al Baker told a news conference, adding: “but that doesn’t mean I will not get compensation.”
Boeing’s flagship jetliner has been grounded for nearly seven weeks, costing an estimated $350 million, after lithium-ion batteries overheated on two 787s in January.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is due to issue an update this week on its investigation into what caused one of the batteries to overheat and smoke, but has indicated it will take longer to get to the bottom of what went wrong.
Boeing proposed a fix two weeks ago based on a stronger flame-proof container for the batteries, but safety experts have said the timing of regulatory approval is clouded by uncertainty over what caused the batteries to melt down.
Al Baker said he was comfortable with Boeing’s proposed solution, noting that its engineers had been unable to replicate exactly what happened to the batteries.
The CEO, known as one of the industry’s fiercest critics and who lambasted Boeing over technical flaws on the 787 shortly before the battery crisis, adopted a conciliatory tone as Boeing wrestles with its worst crisis in years.
He praised the “very capable” Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Ray Conner for his handling of the problem.
Qatar Airways has taken delivery of five 787 Dreamliners out of 25 it has on order, representing about 4 percent of its current fleet of 121 aircraft.
Qatar Airways is also the largest customer for the competing Airbus A350, of which it will also be the first operator.
Al Baker said he expected the first A350 aircraft to be delivered to Qatar Airways in the fourth quarter of 2014. Airbus has said it is aiming for the second half of 2014.
He also said it was possible that Airbus would stage a maiden flight in time to fly the jet at the Paris air show in June, or soon afterwards.
Speaking at the world’s largest travel fair on the eve of the rollout of another new passenger jet, the CSeries built by Canada’s Bombardier, Al Baker said he was still looking at the plane though a purchase was not a priority.