The European aerospace giant Airbus has further escalated a long-running feud with Qatar Airways over A350 fuselage paint issues by revoking the remainder of its customer’s A350-1000 order backlog. Airbus has canceled the Qatari carrier’s outstanding orders for long-haul A350 jets, as Reuters and Wall Journal reported, citing two unanimous industry sources.
Reiterating Qatar Airways’ refusal to accept the A350s during the dispute, the European airplane maker has been trimming the A350 order one by one in line with the contracted delivery schedule. However, Airbus has raised the stakes in an ongoing battle with Qatar Airways by terminating the rest of the carrier’s A350 deal from its order book. As of early August 2022, the flag carrier of Qatar, Qatar Airways, still has 19 remaining orders for Airbus A350-1000s.
Revoking QR’s entire outstanding A350 jet orders
Revoking Qatar Airways’ entire outstanding A350 jet orders is the latest move by Airbus in its ongoing battle with the carrier over a paint issue found on multiple A350 aircraft operated by the Middle East carrier, which the airline believes poses an airworthiness risk.
Qatar’s national airline has grounded 26 A350 aircraft-seven larger A350-1000s and nineteen A350-900s over safety concerns stemming from surface degradation of the paints on the planes. The youngest A350 aircraft to be grounded is just 3.41 years old, while the oldest jet doesn’t exceed eight years. In this context, the carrier refuses to receive further A350s until Airbus does the needful with flaws in the protective painted surface of A350s and provides an adequate explanation. Since then, Airbus has canceled deliveries of four A350 jets altogether; the first two orders were canceled in January 2022, the next in May 2022, and the fourth one in June this year.
Plotting a bigger move ahead of piecemeal tactics on the order book for some individual jets, Airbus is terminating QR’s entire remaining orders for 19 Airbus A350-100 jets, worth at least $7 billion at catalog prices or nearly $3 billion after discounts.
Airbus and Qatar Airways dispute
Qatar Airways is one of the largest customers of European planemaker, with 143 Airbus aircraft in its fleet. It was the first carrier to introduce Airbus A350-900 and a larger version 350-passenger A350-1000 aircraft to the skies. In the current fleet, the leading Middle East carrier has 34 A350-900s which all came in between 2014 and 2019, and 19 A350-1000s which joined the fleet between 2018 and 2020.
Airbus and Qatar Airways’ feud dates back to 2020 end when the Doha-based carrier sent an A350 jet to Ireland for paint in the upcoming FIFA World Cup livery. The carrier reported some abnormalities with the original paint and gradually grounded A350 jets on the instructions of the Qatari Civil Aviation Authority over premature surface damage. Qatar Airways argued that paint defect (peeling of paint from a special layer of lighting protection) exposed gaps in the sub-layer of lightning protection, posing a safety threat.
While Qatar alleged that the accelerated surface degradation posed a risk to passengers’ safety, Airbus maintained that the paint degradation was non-structural and was just a cosmetic problem. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) also backed Airbus’ claims that the surface defects didn’t affect the aircraft’s safety, and there has been ample backup.
The dispute between the two aviation giants escalated further when Qatar Airways chose a legal way to establish the root cause of the painted surface defect and find a rapid resolution of the dispute via courts. The feud took another turn when the Toulouse-based aircraft manufacturer unilaterally terminated the Gulf carrier’s order for forty A321-200Ns and ten A321-200NX (LR)s in January in retaliation for Qatar’s refusal to take A350s.
Although Qatar Airways took the issue to court and requested the UK’s High Court to force Airbus to keep building A321neo jetliners, the court issued a preliminary ruling in April 2022 that Airbus was free to market single-aisle, short-haul A321neo jets to other carriers during the A350safety dispute. Another blow came for the Doha-based carrier in May when the court denied its request to suspend the A350 delivery date and due payments. In the European manufacturer’s eyes, Qatar has already breached the contract, so canceling the jet order constitutes a default.
The substantive court hearing over A350 fuselage paint issues will take place next summer in 2023. The damage against Airbus related to A350 is at least $1.4 billion, and on the other hand, Airbus has countersued Qatar Airways for damages.