Airbus – Qatar A350 Row Escalates, Going Legal?

By Spyros Georgilidakis | December 10, 2021

The row between Airbus and Qatar Airways seems to be escalating, with Airbus bringing in independent legal advice for their A350 dispute.

Corporations the size of airlines and aircraft manufacturers are never too far from strong legal teams. However, this generally isn’t the way they resolve any differences they might have with each other. With further deals somewhere on the horizon, such companies typically find an amicable way out. But under some circumstances, companies have to ‘go nuclear’.

Airbus – Qatar A350 Row Escalates, Going Legal?
Photo: Spencer Wilmot

We have covered this standoff between Airbus And Qatar Airways, for some months now. Qatar has been quite vocal about the matter, although the exact nature of the problem remained a mystery for most of that time. In the past few weeks, we learned that the issue relates to cracking paint, exposing an underlying anti-lightning protection layer.


The Airbus Reaction To Qatar

Unlike Qatar, Airbus had resisted discussing this matter, during this time. The manufacturer cited private discussions with the airline as ongoing, explaining the lack of public commentary. Even on its latest release, the manufacturer does not name Qatar Airways. However, Airbus states that it has to take this new action because recent developments threaten the reputation of its aircraft.

Image: Airbus

Airbus restates that the recent EASA proposed inspections of 13 aircraft are “different in nature” to its dispute with Qatar. The manufacturer adds that this relates to a process that it has since changed. As for the matter at hand, the Airbus release states:

In the face of the ongoing mischaracterisation of non-structural surface degradation on its fleet of A350 aircraft by one of its customers, it has become necessary for Airbus to seek an independent legal assessment as a way forward to resolve the dispute, which the two parties have been unable to settle during direct and open discussions.

Airbus – Qatar A350 Row Escalates, Going Legal?

Again, at no point does Airbus name Qatar or any other airline, in the release. But it adds:

The attempt by this customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue represents a threat to the international protocols on safety matters.


Looking For A Way Forward?

A number of airlines have had issues with the finish of one or more of their A350s. But even though the problem extends over a large surface in some cases, nearly all airlines described it as “cosmetic”. Qatar, on the other hand, described the issues of its Airbus A350s differently. The state-owned airline then grounded 20 jets, at the request of Qatar’s aviation authority.

Photo: Kiefer., CC BY-SA 2.0

It is this last step that Airbus seems to hint at, with the statement further up. EASA then stepped in, as the A350’s issuing authority, to state that this is not an airworthiness issue. Airbus mentions working closely with some airlines, to minimize the effects of the issue – but not Qatar. Airbus states that the carrier rejected these solutions.

The manufacturer states that it wishes to “re-establish a constructive dialogue” with its customer airline. Which strongly suggests that this dialogue has now stopped. This is certainly unusual. Akbar Al Baker, the Qatar Airways CEO, has a reputation as an outspoken commentator, but Airbus seems adamant that this issue cannot continue.

Airbus – Qatar A350 Row Escalates, Going Legal?

Industry sources state that Airbus has offered to repair and repaint entire aircraft, with Qatar refusing each time. It will be interesting to see how the airline responds to this development. Airbus is busy promoting its A350F freighter, which Al Baker has ruled out buying. Butt this issue certainly hasn’t drawn the attention that Airbus wants, for its aircraft.

We have seen that Boeing has had (and is still having) multiple issues with its 787. And a lot of them have to do with the fact that it uses composites in its structure. Airbus clearly doesn’t want its A350 to gain a similar reputation.


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