Boeing Sounds Upbeat Tone on Hard-Pressed Mideast Market

By Robert Wall Features Dow Jones Newswires

Boeing Co. (BA) said concerns about softness in the key Middle East plane-buying market are easing after strong earnings reported this week by the region's largest carrier, Emirates Airline.

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The Dubai-based airline, the world's biggest purchaser of Boeing 777 long-haul planes and Airbus SE (AIR.FR) A380 superjumbos, on Thursday said its half-year net profit more than doubled, bolstered by favorable exchange rates and increased passenger numbers.

"Things have perked back up," Marty Bentrott, Boeing's chief salesman for Middle East airliners, told reporters Saturday.

Even though Emirates signaled continued pressure on margins from demand softness, Mr. Bentrott said, "Things are feeling better than they were six months ago." Traffic in the region is showing good growth signs, he said on the eve of the Dubai Air Show, which begins Sunday.

The biennial industry gathering typically is accompanied by a raft of plane deals for Boeing and Airbus. This year it comes amid a slowdown in orders for new planes after several years of record bookings.

Other Middle East carriers are still dealing with headwinds including low oil prices and U.S. efforts to curb travel from several countries in the region, which dented demand earlier this year.

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Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al-Baker this week said the airline would lose money in the current financial year. The carrier has been hit by a break in diplomatic ties between Qatar and some of its neighbors that began earlier this year. Those neighbors accuse the Qatari government of backing terrorist groups-a charge Doha denies.

Mr. Bentrott said Boeing was continuing to deliver planes to Qatar Airways.

The political turmoil that began a week ago in Saudi Arabia in what the government said is an anticorruption crackdown at this point haven't dented plane commitments, Mr. Bentrott said. Ahmed Jazzar, Boeing's president for Saudi Arabia, which includes defense activities in the kingdom, said the company's commitment to the country was unchanged.

"The Middle East remains a key growth market," said Bernard Dunn, Boeing's president for the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.

Boeing also is getting positive customer feedback from airlines in the region about a new plane the company is considering building to replace its out-of-production 757 jetliner, Mr. Bentrott said.

Boeing didn't signal what it expects in terms of deals at the air show in the coming days. Mr. Bentrott said only, "It'll be a good show."

Write to Robert Wall at robert.wall@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 11, 2017 04:20 ET (09:20 GMT)