The world’s second-largest operator of the Airbus A350 aircraft has grounded nearly a third of its fleet over new safety concerns that started off as an apparent dispute over the quality of paintwork. Qatar Airways confirmed on Thursday that it had removed 13 A350 aircraft from service following an “explicit written instruction” from Qatar’s civil aviation regulator.
The dispute first came to the surface in late May when outspoken Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker flagged a “serious issue” with some of the existing Airbus A350 aircraft in its fleet.
The fuel-efficient long-haul A350 has become the backbone of Qatar Airways’ fleet during the pandemic and Al Baker has boasted about the plane’s ability to serve the same destinations as its rivals with a fraction of the environmental impact as other widebody aircraft like the doubledeck A380 or Boeing 777.
Qatar Airways had already stopped taking delivery of new A350 aircraft over the issue which it says relates to the surface just underneath the paint surface that is “degrading at an accelerated rate”. The Doha-based airline still has 23 A350’s on order and each one costs $366 million at list price.
“With this latest development, we sincerely expect that Airbus treats this matter with the proper attention that it requires,” Al Baker blasted on Thursday.
Qatar Airways is famously a very particular customer for aircraft manufacturers and suppliers and has refused delivery of other aircraft in the past over perceived quality concerns.
“Qatar Airways will not accept anything other than aircraft that continue to offer its customers the highest possible standard of safety and the best travel experience that they deserve,” Al Baker continued.
“Qatar Airways expects Airbus to have established the root cause and permanently corrected the underlying condition to the satisfaction of Qatar Airways and our regulator before we take delivery of any further A350 aircraft.”
With so many aircraft suddenly being removed from service, Qatar Airways says it will try to minimise disruption to passengers is already reactivating older A330 aircraft to make up for the shortfall.
Last year, Al Baker said the airline wouldn’t take any more aircraft deliveries until the end of 2021 at the earliest because of the impact that the pandemic has had on long-haul international travel demand.
After months of intense negotiation, Al Baker said he had reached a deal with Airbus to delay the delivery of some aircraft. Al Baker had threatened to permanently cease business with aircraft manufacturers if they didn’t “oblige” his demands.
Airbus delivered three brand new A350 aircraft to Qatar Airways in a single day last October.
Airbus has not publicly commented on the dispute and the issue does not appear to be affecting any other A350 operator.
Photo Credit: Qatar Airways
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.