July 7, 2022

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EXCLUSIVE: Inside the hangar amid a dispute over a $1 billion Airbus Qatar jet

EXCLUSIVE: Inside the hangar amid a dispute over a $1 billion Airbus Qatar jet

DOHA (Reuters) – Two high-tech Airbus A350s with tape-covered windows and engines are parked in a lighted hangar in the Gulf due to an international legal dispute between European industrial giant Airbus. (AIR.PA) And the national carrier of the State of Qatar.

From afar, the planes might look like any long-range jets crowding the busy Doha hub. But a rare visit by Reuters reporters at the site showed what appeared to be evidence of surface damage to parts of the wings, tail and hull.

The two planes, worth about $300 million combined according to analysts, are among 23 wrecked A350s at the center of a $1 billion court battle in London over whether the damages represented a potential safety risk, something Airbus vehemently denies.

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The aircraft were grounded by the diagonal regulator after premature paint wear damaged a metal sub-layer that provided protection for the fuselage from lightning strikes.

Other airlines continue to operate the A350 after European regulators declared the aircraft safe.

Reuters journalists were given rare direct access after a request to visit on the sidelines of an aviation sector meeting in the Qatari capital, Doha, this week.

Sporadic surface defects on the A350s seen by Reuters included an extended stretch of blistering, cracking or missing paint along the roof or crown.

In some areas including on the edges of the curved wings, the lightning protection net between the hull and the paint is exposed and corroded.

In other parts it appeared to be missing, leaving areas of the composite structure exposed.

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The paint on the tail of one of the A350’s Qatar Airways’ maroon Arabian Oryx logo was perforated with cracked and missing paint that exposed the layer underneath.

Reuters saw small areas of what appeared to be frayed or loose carbon threads on the hull and so-called rivet rashes or missing paint from the fastening heads in the main wing areas.

Airbus and Qatar Airways had no immediate comment on the Reuters findings.

Airbus shares were down 3% on Wednesday morning.

Stripping

Airbus acknowledges that the A350 has quality flaws, but denies that they pose any safety risks due to the number of backup systems and tolerances built into the design.

Qatar Airways argued this could not be known until further analysis, and refused to take any more planes.

Airbus has argued that some paint wear is a feature of the carbon-composite technology used to build all long-range jet aircraft — a necessary trade-off to save weight.

She says the cracks are caused by the way the coating, an anti-lightning material called ECF, and the composite structure interact. Not all of the tail contains ECF chips, which has sparked a debate as to whether the damage was caused by the same problem.

Qatar Airways has questioned Airbus’ explanation, telling a British court that its similar Boeing 787s do not suffer from the same problems.

Amid hundreds of pages of conflicting technical court files filed by the two sides, Reuters was unable to independently verify the cause of the damage.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker and Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury had the opportunity to mingle during a three-day industry meeting in Qatar this week.

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Asked if the relationship had improved after the event, which included the two men sitting next to each other at dinner, Al Baker suggested the two sides stay apart.

“On a personal level I’m a friend of everyone but when it comes to a problem with my company, it’s a different story. If things are sorted out, we won’t have to wait for a trial next year,” he said. Press Conference.

This week Faury said he had been in discussion with the airline and reported “progress in the sense that we are communicating”.

A senior aviation industry official expressed concerns after the Doha meeting that the dispute could have a detrimental effect on contractual relationships across the industry.

“If we deal with friends it will be much better than dealing with the courts,” Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, told reporters.

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(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell and Tim Hever) Editing by Mark Potter and Louise Heavens

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.