MIAMI – The situation between Airbus and Qatar Airways (QR) keeps escalating. The A350 manufacturer yesterday announced it is seeking independent legal assessment as a way to move forward in resolving its paint degradation dispute with the Middle Eastern airline.

At the center of the dispute is QR’s alleged misrepresentation of the nonstructural surface degradation on the aircraft. The parties have been unable to resolve the dispute through open discussion.

As reported earlier, the surface below the paint on some of QR’s A350s has deteriorated more rapidly than expected. The damage exposed the copper mesh that protects the aircraft from lightning strikes. Local regulators ordered the airline to ground 20 of the planes until the situation is resolved.

Paint deterioration on a Qatar Airways A350. Photo: Reuters

Qatar vs Airbus

Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker said in London last week, “we don’t know if it is an airworthiness issue. We also don’t know that it is not an airworthiness issue.” (Read more)

Airbus says that the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) reviewed the fault and found that it has no airworthiness impact on the A350 fleet. An online announcement by Airbus says that “The attempt by this customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue represents a threat to the international protocols on safety matters.”

Reports by Reuters say that the airline has no intention of backing down in the dispute. Also, QR is in midst of a multi-billion dollar deal to replace 35 freighters. It appears that QR has excluded Airbus from the project and that a deal with rival Boeing will happen.

“We have worked actively with Qatar Airways in order to minimize the impact of this in-service surface degradation on their aircraft,” Philippe Mhun, Airbus Executive Vice President Programs & Services, told reporters.

“I have never seen anything like this. It is not only a problem between Airbus and Qatar Airways but it is also designed to prevent further damage to the A350’s reputation with all operators,” said aviation adviser Bertrand Grabowski.

HE Mr. Akbar Al Baker. Photo: Qatar Airways via Youtube

A Widespread Problem

Some have suggested the extreme temperature ranges endured by the aircraft in the desert of QR promoted the problem. Other airlines have reported similar problems but have not grounded aircraft or resorted to legal options.

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 be the result of early production issues. The manufacturer says it has taken care of those problems.

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

“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.

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

Airbus Defends Itself

The Airbus announcement said that while the manufacturer regrets the need to follow such a path, it has become necessary to defend its position and reputation.

“Airbus has worked actively with its customers in order to minimize the impact and any inconvenience caused by this in-service surface degradation on the aircraft. These solutions have all been dismissed by (Qatar Airways) without legitimate justification.”

In parallel, Airbus is working to re-establish a constructive dialogue with its customer on this matter but is not willing to accept inaccurate statements of this kind to continue.

Featured image: Qatar Airways A7-ANB Airbus A350-1041. Photo: Roberto Leiro/Airways