Qatar Airways-Airbus dispute peels away layers of plane truths

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A festering legal dispute between France-based Airbus and Qatar Airways is shining the spotlight on the aircraft manufacturer’s ability to live up to the standards and bringing to fore testy relations between the aeronautics and space giant and the Gulf airline, which has alleged that paint peeling off its A350s has led to 21 of the planes being grounded.

The issue has fuelled a war of words between Airbus and Qatar’s state carrier, which is getting ready to carry majority of the fans who would head to the Gulf nation, which is to host the FIFA World Cup 2022 in winter — a marquee event for the country of 2.7 million.

Airbus even years ago had a fallout with the airline that is known to have vaulting ambitions under its high-profile Group CEO, Akbar Al Baker.

Widely circulating footage on social media has shown paint peels coming off the body of aircraft to reveal the wire mesh underneath, triggering an uproar in aviation circles worldwide.

In an emailed response, Qatar Airways said that it had sought an expedited hearing of a case filed in England.

An airline spokesperson said: “On January 20, Qatar Airways, through the legal proceedings against Airbus in the Technology & Construction division of the High Court in England, sought an expedited hearing of a preliminary issue to address our serious and legitimate safety concerns regarding the surface degradation condition adversely impacting our Airbus A350 fleet which has resulted so far in 21 Airbus A350 aircraft being grounded.”

Citing a video, the airline, which had been parading the A350 as a major acquisition for a long time, 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. We welcome the decision of the court to expedite this issue and order a hearing in April in an effort to bring about a more rapid resolution of the dispute.”

Airbus has scrapped a $6 billion contract with the Gulf carrier for 50 of its new A321 neo passenger jets.

The airline recently called Airbus’ decision “a matter of considerable regret and frustration”.

Ties between Qatar Airways and Airbus have recently hit a nadir after they started diving last year, and Bloomberg called it a ‘mystery spat’. About a decade ago, Al Baker railed at the aircraft maker saying “Airbus is still learning to make planes”.

“We continue to strongly believe that Airbus must undertake a thorough investigation of this condition to conclusively establish its full root cause in order to establish whether any proposed repair solution will rectify the underlying condition and ensure no risk to the continued airworthiness of the aircraft,” the emailed response by Qatar Airways added.

Airbus representative in the UAE did not respond to queries.

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