Cablegate: Embassy Advocacy Helps Win $6 Billion Boeing Deal
PP RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHMK #0047/01 0271225
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 271225Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7556
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 1029
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0914
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAMA 000047
COMMERCE FOR 4520/ITA/MAC/ONE/HOFFMAN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/27/2018
TAGS: EAIR EINV ETRD ECON BA
SUBJECT: EMBASSY ADVOCACY HELPS WIN $6 BILLION BOEING DEAL
REF: A. 07 MANAMA 408
B. 07 MANAMA 338
Classified By: Ambassador Adam Ereli, reasons 1.4(b) and (d).
------- SUMMARY -------
1.(C) Following months of heavy lobbying by the Ambassador, the Crown Prince and King rejected a Gulf Air proposal to buy Airbus and directed the airline to make a deal with Boeing. Gulf Air signed an agreement valued at $6 billion with Boeing on January 13, in time to coincide with a POTUS visit. The agreement represents a significant Embassy commercial advocacy success. A last-minute French government push for Airbus included discussion of a visit to Bahrain by President Sarkozy. End Summary. -------------- SMOOTH LANDING --------------
2.(C) Post commercial advocacy efforts paid off handsomely on January 13 when Gulf Air signed a deal to buy 16 787s, valued at $3.4 billion, with options for an additional 8, valued at $2.6 billion. At a press conference following the signing, Gulf Air Board Chairman Mahmoud Kooheji said it was virtually assured that Gulf Air would exercise its options on all 8 additional planes. Boeing's stock opened sharply higher January 14, following the weekend announcement. ---------- BUMPY RIDE ----------
3.(C) Boeing first requested USG assistance in May 2006, when then Gulf Air president James Hogan announced plans to replace the carrier's aging fleet with a mix of medium-range and long-range aircraft. Under Hogan's business plan, Boeing would have supplied up to 25 787s and as many as 22 737s. Gulf Air was then still jointly owned by the Governments of Bahrain and Oman and Embassies Manama and Muscat each lobbied their respective host governments on Boeing's behalf. However, Hogan's managerial differences with Gulf Air's board subsequently led to his departure from Gulf Air and his ambitious plan was scrapped.
4.(C) With the Government of Oman's announced withdrawal from Gulf Air in May 2007, Minister of Finance Shaikh Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa took personal oversight of Gulf Air's management with a view toward stemming Gulf Air's losses, which stood in excess of USD 1 million per day. Shaikh Ahmed stated that either the Airbus 320 or the Boeing 737 would fit Gulf Air's developing need for high-frequency regional traffic. "The long-term emphasis for the carrier is narrow-body instead of wide-body." Andre Dose, Shaikh Ahmed's pick to replace James Hogan as Gulf Air CEO, soon confirmed to Emboffs that Gulf Air would downsize to an Airbus fleet (reftels).
5.(C) However, Dose's aggressive downsizing drive, which also led to cuts in routes and personnel, brought him into conflict with the Gulf Air board. In July 2007, after just four months on the job, he resigned his post, leaving Deputy CEO Bjorn Naff to succeed him.
6.(C) The Gulf Air board, now controlled entirely by the GOB, made clear to Naff its vision for Gulf Air as a robust, revitalized national carrier. The airline needed to grow rather than shrink. In October 2007, Gulf Air signed an MOU to purchase Boeing Dreamliners. However, the board reversed itself shortly thereafter, citing concern over being able to justify a decision for Boeing to the parliament in the face of a steeply discounted airbus quotation; the Airbus package was reportedly $400 million cheaper.
7.(C) On December 12 Gulf Air delivered bad news to Boeing - the board had selected the Airbus package. Signaling that Boeing's prospects were finished, Gulf Air asked Boeing to return its deposit. Boeing executives promptly informed the Ambassador and Econoff that the deal was lost and Airbus had won. But from Post's perspective the contest remained far from over. Gulf Air's selection still needed to be endorsed by the government. The Ambassador directly queried senior MANAMA 00000047 002 OF 003 GOB officials and learned that no formal decision had yet been reached. Accordingly, he advised Boeing of his recommendation - it was too soon to walk away.
8.(C) Boeing renewed its request for advocacy. The Ambassador and Econoff persisted in lobbying Gulf Air management, board members, government officials and representatives of parliament. The Ambassador made the case repeatedly that Airbus, lower up-front costs would be eclipsed by Boeing's lower operating costs and product reliability. He made much of the fact that the Airbus A-350 alternative was still on the drawing board. ----------------- COURSE CORRECTION -----------------
9.(C) Kooheji urgently requested a meeting with the Ambassador on December 30 to advise him that the Crown Prince and King had rejected Gulf Air's proposal to buy Airbus, and directed him to make a deal with Boeing in time to coincide with the January 12-13 POTUS visit. Kooheji said he would accordingly seek to come to terms with Boeing. However, if Boeing were to respond that its best deal was already on the table, Kooheji would be unable to justify a revised board recommendation. Boeing would need to show willingness to make some concession(s) that Kooheji could point to as equation-altering.
10.(C) The Ambassador notified Boeing that its representatives would need to return to Bahrain quickly and be ready to finalize an agreement. Somewhat skeptical, Boeing executives initially responded that their obligations precluded a return to Bahrain before January 14. The Ambassador pointed out that this would be too late. Boeing subsequently returned to Bahrain and called on the Ambassador January 3rd. The Ambassador shared that he had spoken directly to the Crown Prince on Boeing's behalf. The Crown Prince had assured him of the Government's sincerity in seeking a deal. This was not merely a last-minute maneuver to wring concessions from Airbus.
11.(C) Encouraged by such a high-level assurance of good faith, Boeing responded by shaving an additional five percent off its proposed sale price. This concession proved decisive in providing Kooheji with the justification he sought to advocate a board decision for Boeing.
12.(U) On January 13, Gulf Air and Boeing signed the $6 billion Boeing deal. Dreamliner delivery will start in 2016. In the meantime, Kooheji said Gulf Air will seek to meet its needs via the leasing market. The purchase will be supported via a blend of commercial and ExIm Bank financing with the sovereign backing of the GOB. -------------------------- LAST-MINUTE FRENCH RECLAMA --------------------------
13.(C) GOB officials tell Emboffs that French President Sarkozy, who was visiting the region at the time, made a last-minute call to King Hamad. Sarkozy reportedly said he would add Bahrain to his itinerary during the week of January 13 on the condition that he could sign a contract for 21 Airbus planes. French officials reportedly canceled the visit on news of the Boeing deal. Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid told Ambassador that he would be calling in the local French Ambassador to tell her "we don't appreciate being dealt with this way." ------- COMMENT -------
14.(C) Although Gulf Air has just completed a major long-range aircraft purchase, it is not finished shopping. Kooheji has said Gulf Air still needs to replace eight of its mid-range aircraft. Gulf Air has already signed an MOU with Airbus for those planes, but Kooheji notes that bidding remains open. It seems likely that Gulf Air will choose to replace eight of its Airbus A-320s with newer planes from that manufacturer. But as Boeing's recent win illustrates, Airbus is in no position take Gulf Air's business for granted. Post will certainly continue to hail the advantages of a Boeing solution. MANAMA 00000047 003 OF 003
15.(C) The Embassy's role in Boeing's success is noteworthy for advancing well beyond every-day advocacy. Gulf Air relied on the Embassy to not only communicate with Boeing, but to get the best possible deal; Boeing turned to us for an understanding of the true facts on the ground (which at times belied appearances) and as a force multiplier, conveying the Boeing advantage at all levels. These efforts resulted in a win-win solution. In a letter of thanks to the Ambassador Boeing stated, "Your continued effort to touch the right leaders and remain a strong advocate for Boeing in this process made an enormous difference in the final outcome. The working together activity between you, your team, and Boeing is a model that we should really aspire to replicate in other countries." End Comment. ********************************************* ******** Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** ERELI