Qatar Airways claims in newly released court documents that a significant paint problem that has caused the carrier to ground at least 21 of its Airbus A350 aircraft poses a risk of the fuel tanks exploding.
Airbus, the European aircraft maker, has dismissed Qatar Airways’ demand for at least $618 million in compensation, claiming that the paint problem, has resulted in paint bubbling, cracking, and peeling away from areas of the fuselage, is an airworthiness issue.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which certifies the A350, appears to concur with Airbus on the plane’s airworthiness and sees no need to halt planes that have had paint concerns.
The issue is viewed differently by Qatar Airways and its national regulator, who believe the paint damage could impair a specific layer of metal mesh that shields the aircraft from lightning strikes.
According to the most recent data seen by Bloomberg, Qatar Airways is particularly concerned about damage to the lighting protection layer on the wings, which houses the fuel tanks.
The issue has resulted in a severe feud between what were once two of the aviation industry’s closest partners. Qatar Airways has filed a lawsuit in London’s High Court, with an expedited trial slated to begin in April. Airbus has flatly denied Qatar Airways’ safety accusations.
Airbus has canceled a separate $6 billion contract for 50 A321neo jets that Qatar Airways had been expecting as retaliation. The A321neo planes have become extremely popular among airlines, forcing Qatar to seek a similar agreement with Boeing for its less popular 737MAX planes.
Because Qatar Airways breached the contract by refusing to accept delivery of two A350s before Airbus could determine the “root cause” of the paint fault, Airbus claims it was legally permitted to terminate the deal.