DALLAS – The spat between Airbus and Qatar Airways (QR) took a new turn this week. Reuters reports a court document filed in Britain shows that the airline is seeking more than US$600m in compensation from the manufacturer.

The dispute centers around the premature corrosion of the surface below the paint on some of Qatar’s A350 Aircraft. This defect exposes the copper mesh lightning protection that covers the aircraft.

While Airbus says the planes are airworthy, regulators in Doha have grounded 21 of QR’s 53 A350s until a fix is devised, costing the airline millions in lost revenue. Court documents show that this amounts to around US$4m a day.

Late last year, Airbus said it was seeing legal options for settling the dispute.

Qatar is asking British judges to order Airbus to not deliver any more A350s until the defect has been fixed. However, at one point the manufacturer said that the problem was due to an early production glitch that has already been remedied.

Airbus said it would “deny in total” the airline’s complaint. It has accused QR of trying to mischaracterize the problems as a safety concern.

“Airbus restates there is no airworthiness issue,” a spokesperson said, adding European regulators agreed.

The two companies have been at loggerheads for months trying to reach an agreement.

Airbus A350. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

Lawsuit Filed

Qatar filed suit against Airbus at a High Court division in London in December. Reuters reports that the airline is seeking US$618m “in contractual compensation from Airbus over the partial grounding, plus US$4m for each day the 21 jets remain out of service.”

The suit includes US$76m for one five-year-old A350 that was in France to be repainted for the 2022 World Cup taking place in QR later this year. Reuters reports that this aircraft has been parked at the facility for more than a year. It needed 980 repair patches after the aborted paint job exposed gaps in the lightning shield.

Qatar continues to assert that Airbus has not yet provided a valid root-cause analysis for the problem. The airline originally ordered 80 A350s; QR is known as a demanding customer that has rejected delivered aircraft due to quality issues.

The Problem

The fuselage of the A350 is a carbon composite structure that is not highly conductive to electricity. Thus, the copper mesh below the surface is required to dissipate lightning strikes and prevent damage to the aircraft.

Finnair (AY) and Cathay Pacific (CX) saw the same problem on some of their A350s. However, QR is the only company to ground its jets over the issue. To compensate, QR has begun to bring some of its A380s out of retirement.

Featured image: Qatar Airways Airbus 350-1000 A7-ANJ. Photo: John Leivaditis/Airways