Airbus, Qatar Airways Settle A350 Surface Degradation Dispute

 - February 1, 2023, 12:20 PM
A Qatar Airways Airbus A350 approaches Geneva International Airport in 2019. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY-SA) by FlugZüge)

Airbus and Qatar Airways have reached what they call an amicable and mutually agreeable settlement of their legal dispute over A350 airframe surface degradation and the grounding of 21 aircraft, the European airframer said on Wednesday. The settlement paves the way for Airbus to proceed with deliveries of 50 A321s and resume shipments of 23 A350s to the Qatari flag carrier, an Airbus spokesman confirmed to AIN.

A repair project for Qatar’s grounded A350s has begun, said Airbus, which added that the settlement details will remain confidential. As part of the settlement, neither party admits any liability.  

Qatar grounded the Airbus A350s in the summer of 2021 due to what it called an “accelerated” condition affecting the surface of the composite aircraft below the paint, as mandated by the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA). As a result, the national airline said it would “reluctantly” reintroduce to temporary service five of its 10 grounded Airbus A380s due to what it called a capacity shortage caused by its grounding of A350s.

Airbus, however, insisted that it thoroughly assessed the surface paint-related findings and that the European Aviation Safety Agency confirmed it presented no airworthiness effect on the A350 fleet.

The rift widened yet further with comments in late 2021 by the airline’s CEO, Akbar Al Baker, suggesting that the problem affects A350s flying for other carriers as well, and that Airbus had yet to understand the underlying cause. The sides reached a total impasse in December 2021, when Qatar filed suit in the High Court in London over surface degradation in 21 of the airline’s A350s. The $600 million claim came 11 days after Airbus said it would seek “an independent legal assessment” over what it called Qatar’s mischaracterizations of the issue as an airworthiness concern.

“The attempt by this customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue represents a threat to the international protocols on safety matters,” said Airbus in a statement, without naming Qatar Airways directly.

The OEM insisted that it had “worked actively” with customers to minimize the effect of the condition and any inconvenience it might have caused. “These solutions have all been dismissed by the above-mentioned customer without legitimate justification,” it added.

“In parallel, Airbus is working to re-establish a constructive dialogue with its customer on this matter but is not willing to accept inaccurate statements of this kind to continue.”

Airbus kept its word in January of last year when it canceled an order for 50 A321neos from Qatar. The contract, which called for first deliveries this year, originally specified 40 smaller A320neos and was renegotiated in 2017 to increase the number and size of airplanes to 50 A321neos. Finally, in September last year, Airbus canceled the remaining 23 A350s scheduled for delivery to Qatar.

In Wednesday’s statement, Airbus welcomed the prospect of a return to a normalized relationship with the airline. “This agreement will enable Qatar Airways and Airbus to move forward and work together as partners,” it said.