Qatar Airways accuses Airbus of acting like a “bully” over ‘peeling paint’; files USD 1 billion lawsuit

The head of Qatar Airways on Tuesday, June 21 accused plane-maker Airbus of acting like a “bully” as their billion-dollar dispute over peeling paint looked no closer to a resolution.

The airline and leading plane-maker have been fighting in the British courts for months over the paint problem that’s seen on Qatar Airways ground 23 A350 jets.

“If things were settled, we wouldn’t be still waiting for the trial to happen next year,” Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker said at the International Air Transport Association annual general meeting in Doha.

Qatar Airways accuses Airbus of acting like a “bully” over ‘peeling paint’; files USD 1 billion lawsuit

“A manufacturer must never be allowed to use their market dominance to bully their long-standing customer.”

Both sides said they hoped to reach a negotiated settlement after their latest hearing in May when a London high court judge agreed to a speeded-up trial schedule.

Qatar Airways is demanding about USD 1 billion in damages over the peeling paintwork, which it says is a threat to the A350’s lightning conductor. In 2021, the airline grounded part of its fleet of A350s and demanded USD 200,000 in damages per day for each plane out of action.

ALSO READ – Airbus responds to Qatar Airways’s A350 dispute by cancelling A321 Order

Qatar Airways is demanding about USD 1 billion in damages over the peeling paintwork, which it says is a threat to the A350’s lightning conductor.

Airbus responded by cancelling an order worth more than USD 6 billion for 50 A321s from Qatar Airways, the Middle East’s second-biggest carrier and one of its biggest clients.

ALSO READ – Airbus cancels more A350 orders of Qatar Airways

When asked for a reaction to Baker’s comments, Airbus told AFP: “The best solution is a negotiated one and this is what Airbus is seeking.”

“Airbus was in discussions all the time with Qatar Airways. We have this situation to resolve and it takes time. It takes time and sweat, and I’m very frustrated to be in this situation.

I don’t like to be in this situation with customers, that’s very clear, that’s why we’re trying to work out a solution moving forward. But it’s difficult.”

Guillaume Faury, CEO, Airbus

ALSO READ – Qatar Airways takes Airbus to London High Court over A350 skin damage

Other airlines continue to fly the A350 after European regulators declared it safe, with several carriers recently acknowledging surface issues while calling them “cosmetic”.

Reuters was granted rare first-hand access after requesting the visit on the sidelines of an airline industry meeting in the Qatari capital, Doha.

The paint on the tail of one of the A350s emblazoned with Qatar Airways’ maroon Arabian Oryx emblem was pockmarked by cracked and missing paint that exposed the dull carbon beneath.

Sporadic surface flaws on the A350s viewed by Reuters included an elongated stretch of blistered and cracked or missing paint along the roof or crown of the jets.

In some areas including on the curved wingtips, the protective lightning mesh that sits between the hull and the paint appeared exposed and corroded. In other parts it appeared to be missing, leaving areas of the composite hull exposed.

The paint on the tail of one of the A350s emblazoned with Qatar Airways’ maroon Arabian Oryx emblem was pockmarked by cracked and missing paint that exposed the dull carbon beneath.

Sporadic surface flaws on the A350s viewed by Reuters included an elongated stretch of blistered and cracked or missing paint along the roof or crown of the jets.

Reuters saw small areas of what appeared to be fraying or delaminated carbon threads on the hull and so-called ‘rivet rash’ or lost paint from fastener heads on the main wing areas.

Airbus acknowledges quality flaws on the A350s but denies they pose any safety risk because of the number of backup systems and tolerance built into the design.

Qatar Airways has argued this can’t be known until further analysis and is refusing to take more of the planes.

Airbus has argued that some paint erosion is a feature of the carbon-composite technology used to build all modern long-haul jets – a necessary trade-off for weight savings.

Airbus acknowledges quality flaws on the A350s but denies they pose any safety risk because of the number of backup systems and tolerance built into the design.

It says the cracks are caused by the way paint, anti-lightning material called ECF and the composite structure interact. The tail does not all contain the ECF foil, prompting a debate over whether damage there comes from the same problem.

Qatar Airways has questioned Airbus’ explanation, telling a UK court its similar Boeing 787s do not have the same problems.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which oversees the design of the jet, said the degradation is seen in the surface protection “does not constitute an unsafe condition”.

“EASA’s sole interest in this matter is aviation safety,” a spokesperson said. Qatar’s aviation regulator has declined to comment since the dispute began.

It says the cracks are caused by the way paint, anti-lightning material called ECF and the composite structure interact.

Amid hundreds of pages of conflicting technical court filings presented by both sides, Reuters has not been able to verify independently the cause of the damage.

Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker and Airbus Chief Executive Guillaume Faury had the opportunity to mingle during the three-day industry gathering in Qatar at IATA AGM.

Asked whether the relationship had improved after the event, which included the two men seated next to each other over dinner, Al Baker suggested the two sides remain far apart.

Asked whether the relationship had improved after the event, which included the two men seated next to each other over dinner, Al Baker suggested the two sides remain far apart.

“On a personal level I am friends with everyone but when it comes to an issue with my company, then it’s a different story. If things were settled, we would not be still waiting for a trial to happen next year,” he told a news conference.

Faury said this week he was in discussion with the airline and reported “progress in the sense that we are communicating”.

ALSO READ – Qatar Airways prepared to take the Airbus legal dispute to trial

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