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British Government Officials Offer to Mediate Escalating Row Between Qatar Airways and Airbus

British Government Officials Offer to Mediate Escalating Row Between Qatar Airways and Airbus

The British government has confirmed that it has offered to mediate an escalating row between European aircraft manufacturer Airbus and Qatar Airways. The two sides have become embroiled in a war of words over a paint issue affecting some Airbus A350 aircraft that has been simmering in public since May.

The row entered a new phase on Thursday when Airbus announced it planned to seek an “independent legal assessment” on the issue as it tries to protect its brand image against allegations that the A350 is facing airworthiness issues.

Although Airbus was careful not to name the airline involved, only Qatar Airways has publicly criticised Airbus over the paintwork issue. Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker has suggested the issue is causing cracks in the fuselage of some aircraft and Qatar’s cvil aviation regulator has grounded 20 A350 aircraft over safety concerns.

Those concerns, Airbus contends are unfounded. An assessment by the European Air Safety Agency has also confirmed that while cosmetically annoying, the paintwork issue does not pose a safety risk.

At least five airlines are suffering similar issues but only Qatar Airways has grounded aircraft over the issue.

The problem arises because the A350 is made with a state of the art carbon composite fuselage which then has to be lined with a lightweight metal mesh for lightning protection. The paint on some areas of this mesh is bubbling and cracking and airlines that operate in extremes of heat – such as in Qatar – are experiencing bigger issues.

In an effort to resolve the dispute, the UK’s Investment Minister Gerry Grimstone said he had offered to mediate between the two sides.

Confirming the offer, a government spokesperson said it reflected “the importance of Airbus and Qatari investment to the UK”.

Qatar is said to have invested more than £40 billion in the UK through the Qatar Investment Authority. Investments include shares in well known British banks, airports, supermarkets and Harrods – the iconic Knightsbridge department store.

Airbus builds wings for all of its aircraft models at a massive production plant in Wales.

Sources quoted by Reuters, however, claim neither side were keen on the offer of mediation. Qatar Airways has so far refused to comment on the issue after the rare public intervention from Airbus on Thursday.

“While Airbus regrets the need to follow such a path, it has become necessary to defend its position and reputation,” the aircraft manufacturer said in its statement.

“Airbus has worked actively with its customers in order to minimise the impact and any inconvenience caused by this in-service surface degradation on the aircraft. These solutions have all been dismissed by the above-mentioned customer without legitimate justification.”

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