Airbus Rift With Qatar Airways Heads for Legal Showdown


Airbus SE’s dispute with Qatar Airways over paint and surface quality on its A350 wide-body is entering a legal arena after months of talks failed to resolve the issue.

The European planemaker said Thursday that it’s preparing for an independent review to help resolve differences with Qatar Airways, which stopped taking A350 deliveries earlier this year. A decision in the process will be made by English courts, an Airbus spokesman said.

The Gulf carrier — one of the manufacturer’s biggest customers — rejected proposed solutions “without legitimate justification” and miscast the matter as a safety issue, Airbus said. 

“We have worked actively with Qatar in order to minimize the impact of this in-service degradation,” Airbus Executive Vice President Philippe Mhun said on a call with reporters Thursday. “We’re not willing to accept the inaccurate statements and mis-characterization of the issue to continue.”

The row has carried on for months, with Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker lashing out at Airbus over peeling and fading paint in numerous public venues. Qatar’s aviation regulator has grounded more than a dozen A350s operated by the state-owned carrier. Last week, Al Baker characterized the dispute as an “important safety matter” and suggested the plane may have to be re-certified.

Other Customers

Airbus has acknowledged the surface-degradation issues have affected other customers. It maintains they are non-structural, stemming from differing thermal properties of the A350’s carbon-composite shell, its outer paint coatings and a layer of copper lightning protection sandwiched between them. Each flexes at a different rate with temperature swings — which can be extreme in Doha, where the highs average 108 degrees Farenheit in July. 

Airbus has said that it’s weighing longer-term solutions including replacing the expanded copper foil with a different material called perforated copper foil on aircraft built in the future. 

Legal Standoff

Qatar Airways took a first step toward legal action, triggering the conflict resolution provisions in the sale contract, Mhun said Thursday. The solutions offered to Qatar Airways and others range from touch-ups to a full repainting of the aircraft if required.

“We stand by the product,” he said. “We want to find a way to reestablish the relationship with Qatar.”

A spokesman for Qatar Airways declined to comment.

Missing Mesh

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency backed Airbus on the safety claims this week, but nevertheless issued a proposed airworthiness bulletin on a separate A350 issue, after finding the copper foil was missing in patches on the wings. 

Two of the 13 affected A350s were operated by Qatar Airways.