Qatar Airways is suing Airbus for £458 million in a dispute about ‘paint’

Jan 25, 2022

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A legal battle between Qatar Airways and the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer Airbus is heating up this month.

Qatar Airways has made a complaint against Airbus, which is based in France, over a dispute about its A350 jets – and whether they’re unsafe to fly, or just poorly painted.

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Legal proceedings began at U.K.’s High Court in December 2021 — with Airbus contesting the airline’s claims, and swiftly cancelling an unrelated contract with the airline.

Here’s what you need to know about the ongoing dispute.

What is Airbus vs Qatar Airways?

It all began in November 2020, over the Airbus’s A350 jets, which Qatar Airways said came with serious safety risks.

A general image of the A350 (Photo by Jordan Tan/Shutterstock)

 

When attempting to repaint an A350 with appropriate colours for the last World Cup, Qatar Airways claimed that the jet’s paintwork was peeling and cracked, revealing a copper mesh material used to deflect damage from lightning storms.

The airline alleged this posed a safety risk, and grounded 21 of its 53-strong fleet of Airbus A350s, also refusing deliveries of a further two planes, as a result.

Related: A review of Qatar Airways in all 3 classes: First, Business and Economy

For its part, Airbus has acknowledged an issue with the paint – but has categorically denied any safety risk.

Five other airlines noted the same cosmetic issue as far back as 2016 (the A350 hit the skies in 2015), according to a Reuters report on the topic – though no other airline told the publication they were concerned about the plane’s safety.

And the A350 was subject to an investigation by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which concluded it was safe to continue flying the planes, noting that there was “no airworthiness impact on the A350 fleet”.

Related: Watch TPG UK fly Qatar Airways 2 different ways: Qsuite business class versus economy

In December 2020, Qatar Airways lodged a legal complaint at the High Court in London, asking for a reported $618 million (£458 million) in compensation for the grounded planes, and the two deliveries it did not accept.

Meanwhile, Airbus has said it will “vigorously defend its position”. In a court document, it claimed there was “no reason or rationale” for Qatar Airways to ground the A350 jets in question.

In an earlier statement, Airbus slammed “an attempt by this customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue”, saying it “represents a threat to the international protocols on safety matters”.

Throughout January 2022, tensions continued to rise between the two major players.

Airbus confirmed on 21 January that it had pulled out of a reported $6.35 billion (£4.7 billion) deal – originally finalised back in 2017 – to build 50 A321neo jets for Qatar Airways.

In response, Qatar Airways released a one-minute, 30-second long video, purporting to show the damages it says pose a safety concern.

In a statement, the airline added: “These defects are not superficial and one of the defects causes the aircraft’s lightning protection system to be exposed and damaged.

“Another defect leaves the underlying composite structure exposed to moisture and ultraviolet light, and other defects include cracking in the composite and damage around a high percentage of rivets on the aircraft fuselage…

“It is, therefore, a matter of considerable regret and frustration that Airbus has taken the apparent decision to expand and escalate this dispute.”

At the time of writing, no other airline has pulled the A350 jet from the skies due to safety concerns.

The case will be heard by the High Court in late April 2022.

Featured image by Vytautas Kielaitis/Shutterstock)

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