On December 20th, Qatar Airways announced that it had issued legal proceedings against Airbus in the Technology and Construction division of the High Court in London. The airline said that this action was a result of a failure to reach a constructive solution in relation to its “accelerated surface degradation condition,” on its Airbus A350 aircraft.
“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. Qatar Airways has therefore been left with no alternative but to seek a rapid resolution of this dispute via the courts.” -Qatar Airways
Going to the legal system
The ongoing surface degradation issue continues with the latest move coming from Qatar Airways. This comes just 11 days after Airbus said that it was seeking an “independent legal assessment” due to an unnamed customer attempting to “misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue.” While Airbus’ legal assessment announcement never explicitly named Qatar Airways, it’s reasonably clear that the Middle Eastern airline is the carrier at the center of this situation.
Responding to Qatar Airways’ announcement, Airbus issued a statement of its own, confirming that it had received a formal legal claim in the English courts filed by Qatar Airways, “relating to the dispute over the degradation of surface and paint on certain of Qatar Airways’ A350XWB aircraft,” adding:
“Airbus is in the process of analyzing the contents of the claim. Airbus intends to vigorously defend its position.”
Qatar Airways Issues Legal Proceedings Against Airbus in The Technology and Construction Division of The High Court in London.
— Qatar Airways (@qatarairways) December 20, 2021
Qatar Airways now has a total of 21 A350 aircraft grounded by the condition. The airline says these legal proceedings “have been commenced to ensure that Airbus will now address our legitimate concerns without further delay.” The airline goes on to say,
“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.”
Two sides to the story
Over the past year, we have been tracking this story, first reporting on issues experienced by Qatar Airways in January. While Qatar Airways and its CEO remained tight-lipped on specific problems early in this saga, details were eventually provided- particularly at the point when Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority grounded an initial 13 A350s due to these surface degradation problems.
With Qatar’s civil aviation regulator stepping in to ground the aircraft (now at 21 A350s), it should indicate that the situation is fairly serious. At the same time, however, European regulator EASA stated in August that it was not intending to take any action on the issue- noting that the issue did not affect the aircraft’s structure or introduce any other risks. This is a position that it has held ever since.
Sideline-skeptics on both sides might claim favoritism or bias between aviation regulators and their respective homegrown organizations, although it is difficult to determine at this point just how much of a legitimate safety concern it is, in terms of public information available.
Costly Airbus A350 paint flaw goes wider than the Gulf https://t.co/MUShsC1XIB
— Jamie Freed (@Jamie_Freed) November 29, 2021
Other airlines remain silent
This entire issue is quite a mystery as Qatar Airways has been the only airline to go public about this problem. Nearly 450 Airbus A350s have been delivered to airlines around the world at this point.
While other airlines have not gone public with problems, it doesn’t mean that no related issues have been experienced. An investigation by Reuters revealed that other carriers have also complained about the deterioration of the painted surface on the A350.
Indeed, the publication named Finnair, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Lufthansa, and Air France (on behalf of Air Caraibes) as all raising concerns about the issue. According to the investigation, Finnair, Cathay, and Lufthansa have all cited some ‘cosmetic damage’ on their A350s. However, these concerns were only voiced in a private maintenance message board used by Airbus and A350 operators.
Just hours prior to Qatar Airways’ announcement, Simple Flying had published an 11-minute recap of the entire situation, which can be seen in the embedded video below:
Ultimately, with this issue officially moving into the court system, the public should get to see the problem in greater detail. We would expect a great deal of evidence to be presented, with technical experts on both sides being called upon to weigh in on the seriousness of Qatar Airways’ problems and if these issues do indeed pose a risk to flight safety.
How do you think this saga will unfold? Share your opinions with us by leaving a comment.