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Airbus seeks legal assessment over Qatar A350 dispute

written by Isabella Richards | December 13, 2021

The Airbus A350-1000 is a candidate aircraft for the Qantas Project Sunrise evaluation. (Victor Pody)
(Victor Pody)

Airbus is now seeking an independent legal assessment after the A350 dispute between Qatar Airways “represents a threat” to the company’s appearance on safety matters.

Qatar Airways has condemned the planemaker for months over paint issues that have also underpinned further problems with the aircraft’s lightning protection mesh.

It led to Qatar’s safety regulator forcing the company to ground almost 20 of its widebody A350’s in August, as it still waits for Airbus to repair the issue.

“In the face of the ongoing mischaracterisation of non-structural surface degradation on its fleet of A350 aircraft by one of its customers, it has become necessary for Airbus to seek an independent legal assessment as a way forward to resolve the dispute,” said Airbus in a statement late last week.

“The attempt by this customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue represents a threat to the international protocols on safety matters.”

While the manufacturer did not disclose the specific customer, officials confirmed it referred to Qatar Airways.

The statement comes after Qatar’s chief executive Akbar Al Baker told the Aviation Club 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”.


“Qatar Airways cannot sit with its arms folded and legs crossed. We need to solve it. Airbus has made a very large dent in our widebody operations,” he added.

Investment Minister Gerry Grimstone in the United Kingdom offered to host a meeting to mediate between the two aerospace giants on Thursday after Airbus warned it would seek a legal assessment.

According to anonymous sources who spoke to Reuters, there were signs the offer would be accepted.

Airbus is concerned Qatar is spreading information that the issues could impede on safety, which would largely impact the widebody’s reputation in the future.

Early last week, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) proposed to issue an airworthiness directive as numerous airlines also reported to have similar issues in the past, but have not made it public.

The proposal detected the incorrectly installed “heavy expanded copper foil” patches – which are used to protect an aircraft from lightning – on the aircraft could create an “ignition source for the fuel vapour inside the fuel tanks”.

“In case of a lightning strike of high intensity in the area, [it] could possibly result in ignition of the fuel-air mixture in the affected fuel tank and consequent loss of the aeroplane,” the EASA said.

Despite this, the EASA said it would not force the jets to be grounded yet, but the issue should be investigated further.

Airbus has alluded to the potential of changing its lightning protection to a more flexible material to fix the problem, but it has not been confirmed.

Philippe Mhun, Airbus executive vice president, programmes and services, told reporters the company has “worked actively with Qatar Airways” and offered solutions to repair patches, but the Doha-based carrier has declined the offer.

Reuters said industry sources claim Qatar is reluctant to accept repairs without Airbus defining the root cause of the overall issue.

Many industry leaders say this public dispute is unprecedented, and it could pose severe damage to both company’s reputation in the future.


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