Airbus cancels more of Qatar Airways’ orders as paint fight continues

Feb 9, 2022

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The ongoing dispute between Qatar Airways and Airbus over A350 paint that is peeling and corroding shows no signs of letting up.

The latest chapter of the tit-for-tat saga occurred on Tuesday when it was revealed in Airbus’ monthly orders and deliveries update that at some point during the month of January, Qatar’s A350-900 order backlog had dropped from 42 to 40 aircraft. Reuters reported that Airbus had canceled two of the orders.

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The dispute started in June of last year, when Qatar paused its A350 deliveries and began grounding 21 of its A350s due to the paint deterioration issues. Airbus has repeatedly denied that the issues are a safety risk, and other A350 operators have not taken similar action.

Since December, the spat has escalated quickly and dramatically. That month, Qatar sued Airbus in an English court.

Later in January, Airbus proceeded to cancel Qatar’s 50 A321neo orders. Ten of those aircraft were A321LRs.

Qatar then released the above video detailing the damage to its A350 fleet.

“As this video clearly shows, these defects are not superficial and one of the defects causes the aircraft’s lightning protection system to be exposed and damaged, another defect leaves the underlying composite structure exposed to moisture and ultraviolet light, and other defects include cracking in the composite and damage around a high percentage of rivets on the aircraft fuselage,” the airline said in a statement.

A few weeks later, Qatar swiftly ordered 50 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, along with launching the Boeing 777X Freighter variant. The A350 has largely disappeared from Qatar’s marketing materials and its social media channels, underscoring the airline’s angst toward the European aircraft manufacturer.

Qatar Airways has moved ambitiously to restore service during the COVID-19 pandemic. This month, its capacity is down 28.4% compared to February 2020, according to aviation data provider Cirium. Middle Eastern archrival Emirates, by comparison, is down 42.3%. (Both carriers are dwarfed by airlines that have large domestic markets, such as Oneworld partner American Airlines, which is down just 10% this month.)

With a significant portion of its A350 fleet grounded and a desire by its longtime leader Akbar Al Baker to continue to grow ahead of this year’s World Cup, Qatar faces an aircraft shortage. So far, it’s resorted to returning the Airbus A380, which was retired during the pandemic, to service. The airline is also leasing Boeing 777-300ERs from Cathay Pacific, which finds itself largely diminished as strict government travel restrictions remain in place. American Airlines will also launch service to Doha this summer to help meet the increased demand.

When will this end and get settled? Knowing Al Baker’s persistence as the 25-year leader of Qatar Airways, this spat is likely far from over.

Featured photo by Vytautas Kielaitis/Shutterstock.

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