MIAMI – The saga of the surface paint flaws on Airbus aircraft continues. Earlier this year, the surface below the paint on some Airbus A350s was deteriorating much faster than anticipated. This prompted Qatar Airways (QR) to refuse delivery of aircraft until Airbus resolved the issue.

Qatar has grounded 20 A350s over the issue, following orders from local regulators. However, both the airline and Airbus emphasize that it is a cosmetic rather than a safety issue.

Reuters reports today that the problem now extends beyond QR and Airbus to include five additional airlines around the globe.

Airbus said that in some cases the surface paint deteriorated to the point that it exposed a layer of copper foil mesh that is designed to absorb lightning.

Per the Reuters article, Airbus says that some airlines, like QR and its hot desert base, expose their planes to exceptionally wide swings in temperature and humidity. These extreme changes could be what is hastening the deterioration of the paint.

However, QR is asking for a definitive cause that will satisfy local authorities. A private maintenance message board reviewed by Reuters shows that this problem has gone beyond the Qatari airline.

Paint deterioration on the A350 exposes the anti-lightning protection mesh below. Photo: Reuters

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Finnair, which operates in the far north, reported problems as early as 2016. Damage in that instance had spread to the anti-lightning mesh. Cathay Pacific (CX), Etihad (EY), Lufthansa (LH), and Air France (AF) have also noted the problem.

Airbus says that the problem may have resulted from early production issues that have since been resolved.

“We have seen no effect on the structure of the aircraft and operators continue to fly with high levels of operational reliability,” A350 Chief Engineer Miguel Angel LLorca Sanz said of the broader paint issue.

“This is not at all affecting the lightning strike protection due to the substantial (safety) margins … It is not at all an airworthiness issue,” he said in an interview.


Featured image: Qatar Airways Airbus A350-1000. Photo: John Leivaditis/Airways