Qatar Airways sues Airbus in escalating jet surface dispute

Qatar Airways said on Monday that it has launched legal proceedings against plane manufacturer Airbus at the High Court in London to resolve an ongoing dispute over surface degradation on A350 passenger jets.

“We have sadly failed in all our attempts to reach a constructive solution with Airbus in relation to the accelerated surface degradation condition adversely impacting the Airbus A350 aircraft,” read a statement released by the flag carrier.

The national carrier and Airbus have been involved in a spat over recent months over the corrosion of a sub-layer of lightning protection on airplanes. Airbus maintained that the flaw does not pose a risk to A350’s safety.

Qatar Airways described the flaw as a risk to the safety of passengers and crew as Airbus insisted that the jets were safe to fly. The airline company now has 21 A350 aircraft grounded by its domestic regulator – the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority.

The aviation authority previously declined to provide Reuters with a comment on the grounding decision.

However, two people familiar with the matter told the news agency that the decision was based on uncertainty over the cause and impact of the surface degradation.

“We strongly believe that Airbus must undertake a thorough investigation of this condition to conclusively establish its full root cause. Without a proper understanding of the root cause of the condition, it is not possible for Qatar Airways to establish whether any proposed repair solution will rectify the underlying condition,” added the flag carrier’s statement.

Meanwhile, Airbus responded to Qatar Airways’ latest move, saying that it “is in the process of analysing the contents of the claim” and it “intends to vigorously defend its position”.

Documents seen by Reuters in November revealed that the dispute went beyond the Gulf state as at least five other airlines have raised similar concerns since 2016.

Earlier this month, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency [EASA] issued a preliminary warning that patches of the anti-lightning system may have been poorly fitted on over a dozen Airbus A350 jets after major American carrier Delta Air Lines revealed it also faced “paint issues”.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post last week, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker accused Airbus of “destroying”  its relationship with the flag carrier.

Al Baker said Qatar was also planning to lease a significant number of jets, including Cathay Pacific 777s, to make up for the grounded planes, noting that it would be hard to fix the damaged relationship with Airbus.

“How would you expect me to ever do business again with a company that doesn’t care about the customer at all? It only cares about its financial statements and bottom line,” said Al Baker last week.

In June, a spokesperson for the airline told Reuters that “Qatar Airways continues to experience and has witnessed a condition in which the surface below the paint on some of its Airbus A350 aircraft has been degrading at an accelerated rate”.

The grounding of airplanes left Qatar Airways with an aircraft shortage as the 21 grounded jets represent 40% of its current fleet of A350s.

The Qatari airline is one of Airbus’ biggest customers, and was even the launch customer of the A350.

Airbus has called the flaw a “surface paint” issue while the Qatari airline describes it as problems beneath the paint, affecting the Expanded Copper Foil [ECF], which was used as a lightning-conductor, and the composite shell.

Meanwhile, British Minister of State for Investment Gerry Grimstone has also offered to mediate in the dispute between Airbus and Qatar Airways through a meeting between all parties before the dispute escalated.