Qatar Airways has alleged that surface wear on the damaged Airbus A350s might lead to fuel tank fires, in the latest round of their continuing spat with Airbus.
According to Bloomberg, Qatar Airways highlighted an EASA safety evaluation from April 2021 in recently revealed court documents, stating that damage to the lightning mesh may pose a threat if it occurred in conjunction with fuel tanks. According to the airline, the skin damage is so severe that there is a risk that wind and pollutants may infiltrate the skin and destroy the lightning mesh. Qatar Airways claims that the damage to the wings, where the plane's fuel tanks are housed, is coincidental.
Airbus and Qatar have been at odds for more than a year, with both parties publicly slamming each other. Qatar discovered quality flaws with the wide body in early 2021, focusing on the jet's paint deteriorating and exposing the lightning mesh beneath the surface. In August, the airline raised its worries by grounding 13 A350s to "ensure the continuing safety of all customers."
Airbus characterised the issue as "early surface wear," and the concerned airlines agreed that it is a cosmetic issue rather than a safety one. EASA, the A350's regulator, has determined that the deficiencies do not constitute an airworthiness problem and that the plane is safe to fly.
The problem is caused by the A350's carbon fibre fuselage, which necessitates the installation of a mesh for lightning protection. The material also does not go through the normal expansion and contraction pressurisation cycle that standard aluminium bodies go through, which is assumed to be the cause of paint deterioration because paint expands and contracts.