European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has been ordered to disclose discussions it has had with various airlines that operate its state-of-the-art A350 aircraft over possible fixes for a paint defect that could expose a special layer of lightning protection on the plane’s fuselage.
The disclosure order was made during a fiery preliminary court hearing into an ongoing legal battle between the airframer and A350 launch customer Qatar Airways. The airline claims there are serious defects with around 22 of the next-generation aircraft.
Qatar Airways has grounded the worst affected aircraft while it pursues the multi-billion-dollar lawsuit against Airbus in London’s High Court. The Doha-based airline has demanded a root-cause analysis of the defect and a permanent solution before putting the aircraft back into service.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the airline told the court late last week that they believed Airbus had been discussing possible repair and maintenance solutions with other A350 operators that have experienced similar problems.
Qatar Airways is, so far at least, the only airline to have grounded the A350 over the paint defect issue, which causes surface paint to crack, peel and bubble over a special layer of copper mesh that coats the carbon composite fuselage in order to protect the aircraft from lightning strikes.
The Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) allegedly rescinded the airworthiness certificates of around two dozen A350 aircraft over fears that the lightning protection layer could be compromised by the defect and, as such, pose a safety issue.
Airbus disclosed during the hearing that it has already modified the copper mesh for a lighter material that should reduce or even completely eliminate the paint defect issue from occurring.
The manufacturer has been applying the new mesh on newly built A350 aircraft but Qatar Airways wants to know whether a solution has been offered to airlines that operate the A350 with the old-style copper mesh.
Judge Waksman seemingly backed Qatar Airways, telling Airbus to “provide disclosure of all communications with other airlines relating to or evidencing repair and maintenance solutions in respect of the paint condition”.
Sources claim the court is concerned that Airbus may not have publicly disclosed all of the proposed repair solutions for the paint defect. The judge also ordered both parties to come to an agreement on how to share detailed data about the issue so that Qatar’s own experts can review the defect.
Airbus claimed at the eleventh hour that national security concerns prevented it from handing over the requested data but this argument was partially rejected by the court.
The full court hearing is not expected to be heard until later this year.
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.