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Airbus, Qatar Airways Settle A350 Peeling Paint Dispute

The agreement avoids a trial over longstanding “surface degradation” claims and counterclaims

by Dan Booth

February 6, 2023

Photo: Qatar Airways, Airbus A350-1000. Courtesy of Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways and Airbus have settled their longstanding dispute over surface degradation on some of the carrier’s A350 wide-body jets. In separate announcements, the airline and the manufacturer described the settlement as “amicable and mutually agreeable.”

The deal means Airbus and Qatar will drop their legal claims, avoiding a potentially acrimonious UK court trial. While the exact terms of the agreement remain confidential, the statement goes on to say that the deal “is not an admission of liability for either party.”

According to Airbus and Qatar Airways, “a repair project is now underway, and both parties look forward to getting these aircraft safely back in the air.” In addition, the announcement indicated that the agreement “will enable Qatar Airways and Airbus to move forward and work together as partners.”

That may mean Airbus could resume deliveries of A350s to the Gulf carrier and reinstate the order for 50 of the narrowbody A321s.

Qatar Airways was the launch customer for the A350 and had 53 aircraft in its fleet, plus outstanding orders for 19 more. However, in 2020, the Doha-based carrier squared off with Airbus over cracked and peeling paint on some newly delivered A350s.

The carrier claimed that the flaking paint created a safety issue because it exposed the composite surface and a sub-layer of lightning protection beneath to degradation. For its part, Airbus did not dispute the flaking paint but denied allegations that it posed a safety risk.

In the summer of 2021, citing the airframe surface degradation, Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority revoked the airworthiness certificates of some A350s. As a result, the Doha-based carrier grounded 21 aircraft and sought more than $2 billion in compensation.

Airbus countered by asserting the degradation in the carbon composite may have been due to environmental conditions. However, subsequently, it was revealed other airlines had lodged complaints about paint or other surface problems since 2016.

Nevertheless, those airlines and the European Aviation Safety Agency, which evaluated the aircraft, said it did not jeopardize the airworthiness of the A350 fleet.

Photo: Courtesy of Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways escalated the dispute in the summer of 2021 when it refused to take further A350 deliveries. Airbus retaliated by unilaterally canceling all outstanding aircraft orders with Qatar, including for 50 A321neo aircraft, a key component in the carrier’s future expansion plans.

The dispute reached an impasse in December 2021, when Qatar filed suit in the High Court in London, calling for a “thorough investigation” of the causes and $600 million in damages. This after Airbus accused Qatar of mischaracterizing the issue as an airworthiness concern and threatening to seek “an independent legal assessment.”

At a preliminary court hearing in London last month, Airbus revealed it had implemented design changes in its production process to address concerns about the problems.

The agreement announced this week drops all legal proceedings preempting the trial at London’s High Court that had been set to begin this summer.