Airbus stated late Thursday that it intends to seek an “independent legal evaluation” in response to what it calls a continuous “mischaracterization” of its state-of-the-art A350 long-haul aircraft by one of its clients.
While Airbus has failed to name the airline involved in the alleged mischaracterization, Qatar Airways has engaged in a public battle with Airbus over a paint issue that affects more than 20 of its A350 aircraft.
According to Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, Airbus hasn’t figured out what’s causing the problem, but it’s something to do with how paint interacts with a mesh grid that lines the fuselage and acts as lightning protection.
The painting on certain A350s has cracked and bubbled, leaving breaches in the lightning protection and revealing the carbon composite fuselage beneath.
Similar concerns have been reported by five different airlines, including Delta and Cathay Pacific, but apart from the cosmetic issues, both Airbus and European air safety officials claim there is no cause for concern.
However, despite these guarantees, Qatar’s civil aviation regulator has grounded 20 of its national airline’s A350s while investigations continue.
Al Baker has refused to accept any additional A350 deliveries and retaliated against Airbus last week, increasing the pressure on the manufacturer to rectify the issue.
The rift between Airbus and Qatar Airways was initially revealed in May, but little progress has been made since then, and the relationship between the two companies appears to have reached a new low.
“In the face of the ongoing mischaracterization 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, which the two parties have been unable to settle during direct and open discussions,” the aerospace giant said in a statement on Thursday.
“Safety is Airbus’ top priority. The surface paint-related findings have been thoroughly assessed by Airbus and confirmed by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) as having no airworthiness impact on the A350 fleet.”
“The attempt by this customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue represents a threat to the international protocols on safety matters,” the statement continued.
Al Baker alleged in October that the painting issue had caused fissures in the carbon composite fuselage, posing a severe safety risk.
Airbus claims it has worked extensively with the unnamed airline to tackle the painting concerns, but that its engineers’ remedies have been rejected thus far. Airbus boasted about the A350’s operational reliability, claiming that the global fleet was 99.5 percent reliable.
Qatar Airways was the global launch customer for the aircraft, which entered service in 2015. Doha-based airlines had relied on the A350 during the pandemic, but due to the prolonged grounding, they have reintroduced the A380 superjumbo and older A330s.
No other airline has grounded the A350 because of the painting issue.
Airbus stated that it intended to “re-establish a productive dialogue” with the unknown airline, but that it would no longer accept any further “inaccurate statements” about the issue.