There have been further developments in Qatar’s A350 situation with Airbus, as the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) issued an official directive for 13 of Qatar Airways’ A350s to remain grounded last Thursday. The 13 grounded Qatar A350s are to remain out of service until a cause and solution can be determined for the surface deterioration issues discovered on the aircraft. Qatar Airways’ Airbus A350 order also continues to be halted as a result of this.
The disagreement between Qatar and Airbus started back in November of last year when the airline sent one of their A350s to Ireland for a paint job. The A350 was supposed to receive a special livery advertising the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup. However, after the regular paint was stripped off, it was revealed that the plane had suffered cracks in its airframe. When the issues were first discovered, Airbus said that the damage was “superficial/cosmetic and only visible when the top coat of paint is stripped,” but the deterioration proved to be more than just that later. The naked aircraft was sent to Toulouse for inspection in January of 2021, and as a result of the accelerated airframe degradation, Qatar halted all incoming deliveries of A350s and threatened to refuse all future orders in June.
Qatar required the issue to be “fully understood and corrected” from Airbus before resuming the orders. This had an especially large impact on the A350 program, since Qatar was the largest customer for the Airbus A350s and the launch customer for both the A350-900 and A350-1000 variants. Qatar Airways also held stakes with LATAM Airlines and International Airlines Group (IAG), both operators of the A350, and warned that the A350 order schedules of those airlines could be affected as well. Qatar Airways was supposed to receive 2 more A350-1000s in June and 1 more in July, but those orders have been on hold. The airline has received their entire -900 fleet, but still has a total of 23 A350-1000s scheduled to be delivered.
Worsening matters, earlier this month, it was revealed that the same accelerated surface deterioration problem had been found on an additional 12 A350 aircraft in Qatar’s fleet, totaling the number of aircraft with the problem to 13. Among these 13, 11 were A350-900s and 2 were A350-1000s. All 13 of these aircraft have been grounded and are awaiting a fix. The oldest aircraft was only 6 years old and the youngest was barely 3. Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker has become frustrated and impatient with Airbus, saying that the aircraft manufacturer has been dragging their feet instead of actually solving the problem. With a significant portion of its A350 fleet out, Qatar has reactivated some of its A330 fleet to replace the A350s for the meantime.
To this day, the cause of the cracks still has not been uncovered yet, and a solution still hasn’t been detailed. It is noteworthy, however, to mention that Airbus A350s are built with a composite airframe instead of an aluminum structure like on older aircraft. Fortunately, the problem isn’t universal over all A350 aircraft, as the cracks have only been found on Qatar’s fleet. The problem is unique to Qatar, which has led some to speculate that the issue is caused from the environment in Doha or the Qatari livery rather than the aircraft itself. It is uncertain to make such assumptions though. Hopefully, a solution will be found soon and those 13 Qatar A350s will return to service.
Cover Image: Airlinefleets.com