For months Airbus and Qatar have not been able to come to terms with a paint issue that has lead to significant amounts of strong words from Akbar Al Baker, Group CEO of Qatar Airways. Up until recently when pictures were published exclusively by Reuters, the extent of the problem was entirely unknown outside of online speculation and small snippets of information released by those involved.
Whilst it is now clear that the issues concern the lightning protection and paint durability on the aircraft, Airbus argues that it does not affect flight safety. This is backed up by the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA), stating the issues have been examined thoroughly by the manufacturer and safety authorities and will not cause airworthiness issues for the A350 fleet.
However, Qatar Airways and its domestic aviation safety regulator disagree and have now grounded 20 A350s. To replace the missing aircraft Qatar Airways has elected to re-activate a selection of widebodies, including the A380.
Airbus has previously offered solutions to the problem, including patch repairs and repainting, however Qatar declined the offers, citing the solutions as short term fixes.
On the other hand, Airbus says it understands what has caused the issue and is in the process of conducting further analysis.
“The attempt by this customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue represents a threat to the international protocols on safety matters.”Airbus said in a statement
Acclaimed aviation journalist Jon Ostrower shared on social media that Airbus’ decision to seek legal advice on the matter may be a result of A350 operators pushing Airbus to defend its product.
At least five other A350 operators have encountered similar paint issues on their A350s, however they have not grounded the aircraft and nor have their regulators required them to. Delta is the latest, announcing this week that paint degradation had been spotted on some of their A350s.
In an attempt to clear up some of the statements circulating about the A350s lightning protection, Airbus says that EASAs recently proposed corrective steps regarding missing expanded copper foil on 13 aircraft is different in nature. Additionally, the aircraft is set to be or have already been inspected as per the directive and an updated production process has been adapted.
Furthermore, Airbus stands by the A350 with its 99.5 percent operational reliability and its ability to perform a range of tasks during the worst of the COVID-19 global travel decline.