Qatar Airways said on Monday that it was initiating legal proceedings against European aircraft manufacturer Airbus in London’s High Court over an escalating row over rapidly degrading paintwork on some of the Doha-based airline’s fleet of A350-1000 aircraft.
The latest salvo in the dispute came around a week and a half after Airbus said it would seek an “independent legal assessment” over what it described as an ongoing “mischaracterization” of its A350 aircraft by an unnamed airline.
The rare legal threat from Toulouse-based Airbus was implicity directed at Qatar Airways. Over the last few months, Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker has criticised Airbus over its handling of the situation and questioned the airworthiness of the aircraft that are affected.
Qatar’s civil aviation regulator has ordered the national airline to ground 21 out of 53 A350-1000 aircraft over safety concerns that both Airbus and the European Air Safety Agency say are unfounded.
“Qatar Airways has today issued legal proceedings against Airbus in the Technology and Construction division of the High Court in London,” the airline said in a statement released on Monday.
London is a popular city for international companies to resolve high profile civil disputes because the UK’s long-established and well regarded legal systems are trusted and respected around the world.
“We have sadly failed in all our attempts to reach a constructive solution with Airbus in relation to the accelerated surface degradation condition adversely impacting the Airbus A350 aircraft,” the statement continued. “Qatar Airways has therefore been left with no alternative but to seek a rapid solution of this dispute via the courts”.
Al Baker last week threatened to never do business with Airbus ever again unless the manufacturer found the root cause of the problem and implemented a long term solution to the issue. Airbus hasn’t commented on the dispute since its last statement when it said Qatar Airways had rejected several solutions put forward by the company without proper consideration.
“The attempt by this customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue represents a threat to the international protocols on safety matters,” a statement from Airbus claimed.
After initiating legal proceedings on Monday, a spokesperson for Qatar Airways fired back saying “without proper understanding of the root cause of the condition, it is not possible for Qatar Airways to establish whether any proposed repair solution will rectify the underlying condition”.
“Qatar Airways number one priority remains the safety of its passengers and crew.”
The paintwork issue in question relates to bubbling and cracking of the paint around a special metal mesh that is wrapped around the A350’s carbon composite fuselage to provide lightning protection. Qatar Airways fears the paint damage could degrade the lightning protection and pose a flight safety risk.
The problem has impacted several other A350 operators but they all remain confident in the safety of the aircraft and have not grounded any A350s. Airbus says the issue is cosmetic and does not affect airworthiness.
Qatar Airways was once the proud launch customer of the A350-1000 following a glitzy delivery ceremony in 2018. Akbar Al Baker had been keen on a special freighter-only version of the A350 but has cooled on the idea due to the ongoing dispute with Airbus.
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.