Airbus, Qatar Airways agree to settle bitter A350 flaking paint dispute

Surface damage on a Qatar Airways Airbus A350 parked at a maintenance hangar in Doha. PHOTO: REUTERS
An undated image shows what appears to be paint peeling, cracking and exposed expanded copper foil on the window of a Qatar Airways A350 aircraft. PHOTO: REUTERS
Surface damage on a Qatar Airways Airbus A350 parked at a maintenance hangar in Doha. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS - Airbus and Qatar Airways have agreed to end their long-running court battle over flaking paint on the A350 flagship jetliner.

While the details of the settlement are confidential, the two parties will discontinue their legal claims, they said in separate statements. They also agreed to embark on a repair project with the aim of getting the grounded planes back in the air. 

“This agreement will enable Qatar Airways and Airbus to move forward and work together as partners,” Qatar and Airbus said. 

Airbus said it will reinstate Qatar’s orders for 50 A321 single-aisle aircraft that the company had revoked as part of the dispute. It will also hand over the remaining 23 A350s from Qatar’s pending order book, with deliveries starting this year. Qatar will get the A321neo models from 2026, an Airbus spokesman said. That is later than the previous schedule due to commence in 2023.

Airbus and Qatar spent more than a year facing off in an unusually public dispute over surface degradation on the A350 wide-body jets purchased by the Doha-based airline, the first carrier to operate Airbus’ most advanced model.

The conflict escalated when Qatar grounded 29 of its 53-strong A350 fleet after the local regulator revoked their airworthiness certificates, seeking in excess of US$2 billion (S$2.6 billion) in compensation.

When Qatar refused to take delivery of pending aircraft, Airbus cancelled a large order that Qatar had placed for the best-selling A321 model, on the grounds that the airline’s refusal to take further A350s gave the planemaker a right to cancel all other agreements with the carrier.

The high-stakes showdown pitted Airbus against one of its most important customers. The region’s three main airlines – Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad Airways – have historically been big buyers of wide-body aircraft that helped transform their desert airports into global hubs.

Qatar sought to prove its point by publishing images of the affected aircraft, revealing large areas of paint flaking, exposed rivets and copper mesh that protects against lightning strikes.

The A350 is built largely from composite materials that show differing thermal properties to aluminum traditionally used to build aircraft, which Airbus has said partly explains the flaking.

Qatar and Airbus said that the settlement agreement was not an admission of liability for either party.

A trial at London’s High Court was meant to commence this summer.  BLOOMBERG

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