A350 litigation: Qatar Airways attacks Airbus in British courts

Posted on 20 Dec. 2021 at 20:37Updated 21 Dec. 2021 at 9:55

The dispute between Qatar Airways and Airbus over paint defects on A350s enters the legal domain. After months of acrimonious discussions with Airbus, the Doha company announced on Monday that it had initiated litigation against the aircraft manufacturer, with a specialized British court (the technology & construction chamber of the high court Justice of London).

“We have unfortunately failed in all our attempts to reach a constructive solution with Airbus concerning the conditions of accelerated degradation of the surface which have a negative impact on the Airbus A350”, affirms the company, which specifies to have been forced to nail to the ground of its 53 A350 because of this problem. And this, on the instruction of the Civil Aviation of Qatar.

Airbus had already raised the threat of a complaint

For its part, Airbus confirmed on Tuesday morning that it had received a formal complaint notification from Qatar Airways. “Airbus intends to vigorously defend its position” assures the press release. Last week, the aircraft manufacturer was the first to raise the threat of a complaint against Qatar Airways if the company continued to damage the image of the A350 by questioning the safety of the aircraft.

If Airbus cannot deny the problem of premature wear of the paint on certain A350s delivered to Qatar Airways as well as to other companies, the aircraft manufacturer affirms that this defect does not present any risk for flight safety and therefore does not require no need to nail the devices to the ground.

No safety risk according to EASA

An opinion which is that of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which has not given, for the time being, any instructions on this subject. EASA indicated that it had “no element that the degradation of the paint could affect the structure of the airplane and induce other risks”. European companies that own A350s, such as Air France, Air Caraïbes and French Bee, can therefore continue to fly them without worry. EASA only asks companies operating A350s to carry out an inspection and report any problems observed to it.

According to Reuters, the Finnish company Finnair, which was the first in Europe to receive an A350, had already reported paint defects in 2005. Without further consequences so far. For the time being, Qatar remains the only company to have ground part of its A350s to the ground.

Request for a full investigation

The European Aviation Safety Agency has certainly issued an airworthiness directive concerning a possible defect on certain copper parts located in the wings of certain A350s, and which must be changed within 12 to 78 months depending on the model. But this instruction has no relation to the problems of painting, specifies the agency.

Another fundamental difference: Qatar Airways also maintains that it continues to assert that Airbus has not identified the “root cause” of this paint problem. “We firmly believe that Airbus must undertake a thorough investigation into this condition to conclusively establish its root cause,” the company said in its latest press release. Yet again, Airbus and the European Aviation Safety Agency claim the opposite. According to EASA, Airbus has identified several ways to remedy this and is said to be testing them, in order to select the best method. The painting would be done during the first major visit to the plane.

A shadow on the board

This dispute nonetheless remains one of the few shadows on the table of the European aircraft manufacturer in 2021, which has chained commercial successes . Qatar Airways was the first company to take delivery of an A350 and remains the first customer of the new long-haul flagship of Airbus, with no less than 76 units ordered and 53 delivered (34 A350-900 and 19 A350-1000). This dispute has not only already led Qatar Airways to halt deliveries of the A350, but it has probably lost Airbus a good potential customer for the future cargo version of the A350. In addition, the risk of altering the confidence in the A350 of other companies and passengers is not zero, as long as this matter is not fully resolved.

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