The Airbus-Qatar Airways dispute has reached new heights after the national carrier revealed in a recent video the extent of damage that occurred on a number of its Airbus 350 aircraft—which remain grounded.
The video shows rows of defects on the skin of the aircraft, including flakes of the copper-mesh anti-lightning system that come loose easily when teased by a gloved hand, in addition to patches of carbon fibre that have been “exposed to moisture and damaging ultraviolet light.”
According to Qatar Airlines (QA), the poorly stuck paint can leave the lightning protection system to be exposed and damaged.
“We confirm that we are adhering to all of our obligations under all applicable contracts. It is therefore a matter of considerable regret and frustration that Airbus has taken the apparent decision to expand and escalate this dispute,” the airline said, commenting on the video release.
The carrier cited that such damage imposes “serious and legitimate safety concerns”—an allegation the airplane manufacturer and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency deny.
Back and forth responses
The Qatar Civil Aviation Authority took concerns into their own hands and grounded 21 A350 aircrafts, leaving QA with an aircraft shortage as the total grounded jets represent 40% of its current fleet of A350s.
According to Al Jazeera however, Airbus stated that “there is no reasonable or rational basis” for Qatari regulators to ground the aircraft, later terminating a contract with Doha’s carrier for 50 smaller A321neo jets on Thursday—taking the escalations to higher levels.
“We confirm we did terminate the contract for 50 A321s with Qatar Airways in accordance with our rights,” said an Airbus spokesman.
Qatar Airways responded by saying that the defects are “not superficial” and cause the aircraft’s lightning protection system to be exposed and damaged.
Same problem, different airlines
An earlier investigation by Reuters also revealed that at least five other airlines had reported A350 paint or skin flaws since 2016, prior to Qatar Airways raising their own concerns in November 2020.
“We continue to urge Airbus to undertake a satisfactory root cause analysis into the cause of the defects,” the airline said in a statement.
The airplane manufacturer said that it’s looking at changing the design of the anti-lighting mesh in the future, but insisted that the backup lightning protection in the aircraft is sufficient. It accused the Gulf nation of undermining global protocols by seeking ‘leverage over safety.’
Airbus is expected to serve its defence to Judge David Waksman by 25 February, Bloomberg noted.
Meanwhile, a further session over the safety dispute is due for a hearing at a UK court in late April, a move QA ‘welcomed.’