European aircraft manufacturer Airbus announced late on Thursday that it planning to seek an “independent legal assessment” over what it has described as an ongoing “mischaracterization” of its state-of-the-art A350 long-haul aircraft by one of the customers.
And while Airbus has declined to name the airline involved in this alleged mischaracterization, Qatar Airways has become embroiled in a very public spat with Airbus over a paint issue that it is experiencing with more than 20 of its A350’s.
Airbus still hasn’t gotten to the root cause of the problem, Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker claims but the issue involves the way paintwork interacts with a mesh grid that lines the airframe and that acts as protection against lightning.
On some A350’s, the paintwork has cracked and bubbled and even left gaps in lightning protection, exposing the carbon composite fuselage underneath. Around five different airlines, including Delta and Cathay Pacific, have experienced similar issues but apart from looking cosmetically unappealing, both Airbus and European air safety regulators say there’s no cause for alarm.
Those reassurances, however, didn’t stop Qatar’s civil aviation regulator from grounding 20 of its national airline’s A350’s while investigations continue. Al Baker has refused to take deliveries of any more A350’s and hit out against Airbus again last week, ratcheting pressure on the manufacturer to resolve the issue.
The rift first came to light in May but zero progress has yet been made and the relationship between Airbus and Qatar Airways appears to have now hit a new low.
“In the face of the ongoing mischaracterisation of non-structural surface degradation on its fleet of A350 aircraft by one of its customers, it has become necessary for Airbus to seek an independent legal assessment as a way forward to resolve the dispute, which the two parties have been unable to settle during direct and open discussions,” the aerospace giant said in a statement on Thursday.
“Safety is Airbus’ top priority. The surface paint-related findings have been thoroughly assessed by Airbus and confirmed by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) as having no airworthiness impact on the A350 fleet.”
“The attempt by this customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue represents a threat to the international protocols on safety matters,” the statement continued.
In October, Al Baker claimed the paintwork issue had caused cracks in the carbon composite fuselage which could present a major safety risk.
Airbus says it has worked closely with the unnamed airline to resolve the paintwork issues but that solutions presented by its engineers had so far been dismissed. Pointing to the A350’s operational reliability, Airbus said the worldwide fleet had a 99.5% reliability.
The aircraft has been in service since 2015 and Qatar Airways was the global launch customer. The Doha-based airlines had relied upon the A350 during the pandemic but has brought back the A380 superjumbo and older A330s because of the ongoing grounding.
No other airline has decided to ground the A350 over the paintwork issue.
Airbus said it wanted to “re-establish a constructive dialogue” with the mystery airline but that it was no longer willing to accept listening to any more “inaccurate statements” about the problem.
Qatar Airways has been contacted for comment.
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.