Qatar Airways Sues Airbus for $1 Billion Following Grounding of About Two Dozen of Its A350s, Releases Statement

UK Judge says there is “no simple fix to the problem”, and the only current proposed fix “deals with the symptoms of the condition, not the condition itself”

Highlights

  • UK Judge David Waksman said there is “no simple fix to the problem”, and the only current proposed fix “deals with the symptoms of the condition, not the condition itself”.
  • The condition results from a different coefficient of expansion between the CFRP and the ECF.
  • Airbus says it is not a safety issue, contrarily Qatar Airways seeks deeper investigation.

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Qatar Airways
Qatar Airways is suing Airbus in a UK High Court over flaws with the protective coat of Airbus A350. The airline is suing the European planemaker for
$1 billion in damages, following grounding of about two dozen of its A350s experiencing the flaws. Qatar Airways says that these flaws are a cause for safety concerns, but these claims have been denied by Airbus and European regulators. 

On Thursday, 26th May, the High Court judge, Mr. Justice David Waksman, said that there is “no simple fix to the problem” of the Airbus A350. The only current proposed fix for the situation “deals with the symptoms of the condition, not the condition itself”, the ruling further stated. This “requires extensive and potentially repeated patching of the fuselage of all affected aircraft”, Qatar Airways mentioned in a statement released on 31st May.

Qatar Airways releases statement on $1 billion dispute with Airbus

The Judge’s ruling further states “the condition is effectively bound to occur at some point in the lifetime of an A350 aircraft because it results from a different coefficient of expansion as between the composite fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) of which the airframe is made, and the expanded copper foil layer (ECF), which is bonded to, or cured into it” 

Airbus A350, which is a long-range, wide-body airliner developed and produced by Airbus, is the first large commercial aircraft to be constructed extensively from carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP). CFRP is durable and has lower maintenance cost as it doesn’t corrode to the same extent as traditional aluminium. ECF acts as a lightning conductor which prevents serious damage to the aircraft in case of a lightning strike. The difference in their coefficient of expansion means that the two materials (CFRP and ECF) contract and expand at different rates causing (at least) the crackling of the layers of paint on the A350. 

With respect to the aircraft where repainting was done at Shannon airport, Ireland, applying patches to all affected areas, (principally the fuselage) could be as many as 900. Since the condition itself cannot be rectified, after a simple repainting of the aircraft, it is likely to reemerge. 

Airbus continues to be of the opinion that this is not a safety issue, contrarily Qatar Airways maintains that the full impact of the issue on the safety of the aircraft can be established only after deeper investigation. 

Justice Waksman noted that the issue that originally arose in a plane in 2020, could affect all A350s due to the choice of materials. He also rejected ordering Airbus to cease formally trying to deliver more A350s to Qatar Airways, or to abstain from reselling undelivered aircraft. 

The issue kindled when an A350 was sent to Shannon to receive a world cup livery in November 2020, but wound up in Toulouse, France, instead of returning to Qatar, with reports of cracks. This was followed by Lufthansa sending its oldest A350s to Toulouse to be repainted on 2nd February, 2021. On 31st March, 2021, Qatar threatened to halt Airbus deliveries. A year later, Qatar Airways said that the paint issue could lead to fires in the airline’s safety assessment published by EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency). 

Qatar Airways is the state-owned flag carrier of Qatar. Headquartered at Doha, the airline flies to over 150 destinations and comprises a fleet of over 200 aircraft. Founded on 22 November, 1993, it has been owned by the Oneworld alliance since October 2013, with its base at Hamad International Airport.

Founded on 18 December, 1970, Airbus is a European multinational aerospace corporation. With its headquarters at Leiden, Netherlands, it designs, manufactures, sells civil and military aerospace products worldwide, and manufactures aircraft in and outside Europe. Airbus is the world’s largest airliner manufacturer, as of 2019. 

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