Qatar Airways vs. Airbus: The Ongoing Dispute over A350 Paint Issues

LAST UPDATE: 02/02/2023Qatar Airways and Airbus: Legal Dispute Resolved Amicably

In 2020, Qatar Airways sent one of its Airbus A350s to Ireland to receive a special World Cup livery. However, the plan went awry, and the jet returned to Toulouse without any paint. Fast forward to the present, a major conflict erupted between Qatar Airways and Airbus, leading to grounded planes, canceled orders, and a court case in London. While Airbus insists that the damage to Qatar Airways’ A350s is only superficial, the airline argues that aircraft are unsafe to fly without a permanent solution. Here is the full story of this ongoing dispute between Airbus and Qatar Airways.

Photo source: fl360aero

January 2021: A350 Sent to Toulouse for Inspection Due to Reports of Cracks

In November 2020, Qatar Airways A350 (A7-ALL) was sent to Shannon, Ireland, to receive a special World Cup livery. However, the aircraft did not return to Qatar by the end of the year. Instead, it was sent to Airbus in Toulouse for further inspection due to reports of cracks found under the paintwork. Airbus described these issues as “irregularities on the surface coating”, and stated that the problem was superficial/cosmetic and only visible when the top coat of paint is stripped.

2021 Mid-Year: Airbus delivery halt due to A350 Paint Conflict

A350 Paint Conflict
Source: AIRBUS

May 31st: at the end of May, Qatar Airways CEO, Al Baker, announced that the airline may stop taking delivery of all aircraft produced by Airbus. The reason for this decision was an ongoing issue with the manufacturer. However, the specific issue was not disclosed. This statement indicated a potential deterioration of the relationship between the two companies.

June 8th: Qatar Airways halted the delivery of the Airbus A350 on June 8th, 2021 aircraft due to an ongoing dispute with the manufacturer. The airline has reportedly rejected several proposed fixes from Airbus for issues found on their A350s, describing them as unsafe to fly without a permanent solution. On the other hand, Airbus has stated that the problems are only cosmetic. The two parties are set to take the case to the High Court in London. This move comes after Qatar Airways CEO Al Baker announced in May that the airline might stop taking delivery of all aircraft produced by Airbus but did not clarify the reason for the decision.

August 2021: Qatar Airways grounds 13 A350s

A350 Paint Conflict
Source: Business Insider

August 5th: Qatar Airways has escalated its dispute with Airbus by grounding 13 of its Airbus A350 aircraft at the start of August. The decision was made in compliance with the advice of the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority. Airbus, however, maintains that the issues are superficial and that they have proposed solutions that have been rejected by Qatar Airways without valid reason.

November 2021: More airlines have paint issues

A350 Paint Conflict
Source: Business Traveller

November 29th: According to a report by Reuters, several airlines have experienced paint issues on their Airbus A350s. The report states that Finnair, Cathay Pacific, Etihad (who has not yet flown the jet commercially) and Air Caraibes have all reported cosmetic damage to the paintwork on their A350s.

December 2021: Airbus and Qatar Airways begin legal proceedings

December 9th: Qatar Airways claims that the paint issue affects the aircraft’s safety. However, Airbus states that the damage is purely cosmetic in nature. The European manufacturer has announced that they are seeking an independent legal assessment. Although not mentioning Qatar Airways by name, Airbus stated, “The attempt by this customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue represents a threat to the international protocols on safety matters.”

One week later…on December 20th, Qatar Airways initiated legal action against Airbus in the Technology and Construction division of the High Court in London.

January 2022: Dispute Escalates with Legal Action, A321neo Order Cancellations, and New Orders with the Competitor

Photo by: Simple Flying

January 6th: Per the court filing, the details of the claims made by Qatar Airways against Airbus have been made public. The airline is seeking $618 million in damages from Airbus and an additional $4 million each day that one of its A350s remains grounded. This would amount to the list price of an Airbus A350-900 every 80 days.

January 21st: as the dispute between the two companies intensified, it was reported that Airbus had terminated an unrelated order of 50 Airbus A321 aircraft that Qatar Airways had previously agreed to purchase. The manufacturer stated that the cancellation was made in accordance with their rights. In retaliation, Qatar Airways released a video displaying the damage that its Airbus A350 fleet had incurred. This was the first time that either party had revealed the extent of the damage seen on the aircraft.

Video Of Airbus A350 Damage that Qatar Airways released – Qatar Airways on YouTube

January 31st: In response to the cancelation of its A321 order from Airbus, Qatar Airways has placed an order with Airbus’ competitor, Boeing. The order includes up to 100 aircraft, including 50 Boeing 737 MAXs to replace the A321s, and a new freighter order. Last summer, the competition between Airbus and Boeing was tight, but now, Qatar Airways had no other choice but to place the first order for the Boeing 777X freighter and commit to up to 50 aircraft.

A350 Paint Conflict
Source: Paddle Your Own Kanoo

February 2022: Order Decrease, Injunctions, and Damage Claims

February 8th: as reported by Reuters, Airbus’ January 2022 order books, released in early February, revealed that Qatar Airways’ orders for the A350 have decreased by two.

February 19th: A judge has ordered Airbus to prevent any “practical impact” of the A321neo order cancellation. This means that the manufacturer is not permitted to offer the aircraft to other airlines. However, this injunction is a temporary measure and the final decision will be evaluated at a court hearing scheduled for April.

February 28th: Airbus has requested a high court judge to award $220 million worth of damages for two A350 aircraft that were not accepted for delivery by Qatar Airways. Airbus argued in court that Qatar Airways and the Qatari regulator were involved in a wrongful collaboration or conspiracy, and/or acted in bad faith with regards to the grounding of the aircraft.

March 2022: New Safety Concerns

March 22nd: Qatar Airways has challenged the responsibility for Airbus’ $220 million damages claim for not accepting delivery of two A350s. The airline has stated that it has not violated its contract with the planemaker, and that Airbus has not provided an explanation for the $220 million figure.

A350 Paint Conflict
Photo source: fl360aero

March 30th: as part of the ongoing legal dispute between Qatar Airways and Airbus, court documents were released that indicate the airline’s concerns about paint degradation on the A350s. Qatar Airways references a safety assessment by EASA from April 2021, which warns that damage to the paint could result in damage to the lightning mesh over the aircraft’s fuel tanks, leading to a possible fire in extreme cases.

April 2022: Qatar Airways Refuses Deliveries

April 4th: Qatar Airways refuses to accept new deliveries of Airbus A350 aircraft until its current concerns are resolved to its satisfaction, resulting in the refusal of a third A350 aircraft delivery. Due to this, Airbus reportedly canceled the order.

April 26th: The court has determined that the Airbus A350 and A321neo orders are included in a cross-default clause and therefore, Qatar Airways’ refusal of A350 deliveries is a valid reason for canceling the A321neo order. As a result, Airbus is permitted to offer the slots intended for Qatar Airways to other customers. This decision does not prevent Qatar Airways from contesting the action in a full trial in the future.

High Court – Courts and Tribunals Judiciary
Photo source: Judiciary

May 2022:

May 26th: the High Court in London has ruled on the preliminary case between Airbus and Qatar Airways, and it has been expedited in the public interest. The case is set to be held over a three-month period in Summer of 2023. Both parties are pleased that the matter is progressing. However, Airbus still prefers to reach a resolution outside of court.

May 31st: After the High Court’s ruling, both Airbus and Qatar Airways released statements. Qatar Airways expressed satisfaction with the outcome, while Airbus disputed the airline’s statement, calling it a “complete mischaracterization of the UK High Court ruling”, and highlighting that Qatar Airways was ordered to pay 97% of Airbus’ costs.

September 2022: Airbus Cancels All Remaining A350 Orders from Qatar Airways

Photo Source: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

September 8th: Airbus announced that it had canceled all remaining orders of the A350 from Qatar Airways amid a safety and contractual dispute between the two companies. Qatar Airways had 19 pending orders for the A350-1000 model. The cancellation was confirmed by an Airbus spokesperson to Reuters following the release of the company’s monthly order data.

December 2022: Trial splits

December 16th: at a hearing in London, UK High Court Judge David Waksman ordered the multi-billion Qatar Airways and Airbus trial to be divided into two parts due to the high level of complexity involved. In May, the court had ruled in favor of an expedited trial, which would have taken place over roughly three months next summer, but now the case will be conducted in two parts, potentially extending the trial through 2024.

January 2023: Airbus Alters A350 Components and Qatar Airways Given Deadline to Produce Correspondence with QCAA on Aircraft Grounding

January 18th: Airbus has altered the components used in the fuselage of its A350 aircraft due to its ongoing legal dispute with Qatar Airways. The company has started using a different type of copper foil as the layering in new deliveries since late last year. The decision to switch to a new design is considered significant, despite Airbus asserting that the original design is still safe. According to Reuters, Airbus has switched from using expanded copper foil (ECF) to perforated copper foil (PCF) for the layering between the paint and carbon fuselage on the A350. The ECF plays a crucial role in ensuring the fuselage can withstand lightning strikes safely and is at the center of the $2 billion dispute between Airbus and Qatar Airways. Airbus has confirmed that the new PCF will be used on the rear fuselage for aircraft delivered at the end of 2022. The material was previously under consideration but was not incorporated into new jets. The company has acknowledged that the new material is lighter but will also address the ongoing cracking issue.

An undelivered Airbus A350 built for Qatar Airways is seen in storage at Chateauroux, France, September 3, 2022 as Airbus and the Gulf carrier remain locked in a contractual and safety dispute.
REUTERS/Tim Hepher

January 19th: Qatar Airways has been given a 13-week deadline to produce correspondence between itself and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) regarding the grounding of the Airbus A350. Qatar Airways has consistently claimed that the QCAA was responsible for grounding the aircraft by revoking Airworthiness Review Certificates on 22 aircraft and preventing them from being used. A $2 billion legal dispute between Airbus and Qatar Airways has been ongoing for several months, as the two companies disagree on whether the paint degradation on some A350s is a safety concern. Yesterday’s court hearing was the latest development in the ongoing conflict, during which Airbus disclosed that it had made some design changes to the aircraft.

January 31st: Airbus and Qatar Airways are approaching a settlement in their disagreement over the A350 dispute. Despite months of public disagreement, it’s uncertain if an agreement will be reached as previous efforts to avoid a London trial have failed. However, two people with knowledge of the situation reported to Reuters, that negotiations have picked up the pace, and the tone seems more positive after a successful meeting between both companies and regulators in Doha. Read more about this update: Airbus and Qatar Airways Near Agreement in A350 Dispute.

February 2023: Legal Dispute Resolved Amicably!

Qatar Airways and Airbus have resolved their legal dispute regarding the paint degradation of the Airbus A350 aircraft. The dispute, which had been ongoing for nearly two years and reached the High Court in London, has come to an amicable settlement. Both parties have released a joint statement regarding the resolution.

READ MORE ABOUT THIS UPDATE: Qatar Airways and Airbus: Legal Dispute Resolved Amicably

The ongoing dispute between Qatar Airways and Airbus over paint issues on the airline’s A350 fleet has escalated over the past year, leading to grounded planes, canceled orders, and a court case in London. While Airbus insists that the damage to Qatar Airways’ A350s is only superficial, the airline argues that the aircraft are unsafe to fly without a permanent solution.

The conflict has raised concerns about the integrity of the paintwork on A350s operated by other airlines as well. As the legal proceedings continue, the outcome of this dispute will have significant implications for both Qatar Airways and Airbus and the aviation industry as a whole.

It is crucial that the safety of passengers and crew is the top priority, and the solution that will be reached will be the one that guarantees that. With all this in mind, one question that arises is: Will the safety concerns raised by Qatar Airways be addressed and resolved, or will this be just the tip of the iceberg? What do you think? Tell us in the comments section below.


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