Akbar Al Baker, the often outspoken and sometimes controversial boss of Qatar Airways has said in an interview with the South China Morning Press that the Doha-based airline might never do business with European aircraft manufacturer Airbus ever again because the aerospace giant is threatening legal action against his airline.
A very public spat between the two industry giants took a new twist late last week when Airbus said it was seeing an “independent legal assessment” against an unnamed customer who was attempting to “misrepresent” a paint issue with the A350 aircraft as an airworthiness problem.
The customer in question is believed to be Qatar Airways. So far, the airline has grounded at least 21 of its 53-strong fleet of Airbus A350’s on of the orders of Qatar’s civil aviation regulator over an alleged paint flaw.
Airbus maintains that the paint issue is purely cosmetic and not a safety problem that would require aircraft to be grounded. At least nine A350’s operators are experiencing similar paint issues but only Qatar Airways has grounded the planes citing airworthiness worries.
Airbus says it has suggested solutions to the problem but claims Qatar Airways has dismissed those suggestions “without legitimate justification”.
Qatar Airways has refused to respond to media requests for comment but Al Baker says he now needs to set the record straight over Airbus’ “derogatory” comments made in last week’s statement on the bust up.
He is calling on Airbus to “come out and admit” there’s a problem with the aircraft and has again demanded a permanent repair to the problem.
The issue is caused by paint bubbling and cracking around a metal mesh that covers the A350’s carbon composite fuselage. The mesh is used for lightning protection and Qatar Airways fears the paint issue could affect the lightning protection.
The European Air Safety Agency has dismissed those concerns.
Al Baker, however, is standing firm. “I hope that this condition doesn’t deteriorate further on the other aeroplanes that are already flying, some of which are already showing this condition starting to develop,” he told SCMP, suggesting the regulator might order more aircraft to be grounded.
The airline could sue Airbus if it’s proven that grounding the aircraft was the right decision and that the grounding was necessary because of a manufacturing defect.
The relationship between the two sides now appears to have hit rock bottom. “With Airbus, the damage is very severe. I don’t know how we will be able to work with them again,” Al Baker says.
Airbus had been talking up the possibility of an A350 freighter with Qatar Airways as a possible launch customer. That deal now looks to be in tatters: “How would you expect me to ever do business again with a company that doesn’t care about the customer at all?,” Al Baker commented.
“It only cares about its financial statements and bottom line.”
Airbus says it is “working to re-establish a constructive dialogue” with Qatar Airways.
Last year, Al Baker threatened to never do business with rival aircraft manufacturer Boeing ever again unless it agreed to postpone aircraft deliveries.
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.