Qatar Airways and Airbus remain at loggerheads over the paint quality issue on the A350. Speaking at the Aviation Club UK in London on November 30, CEO Akbar Al Baker was most critical of Airbus’ lack to come up with a satisfying solution. Qatar Airways criticizes lack of progress on A350 paint issue.

The issue has been lingering on since early this year and was revealed by Reuters in May. In August, Qatar release a statement, publicly condemning Airbus for failing to address the problem in a proper way. Qatar noted that paint on the upper fuselage has degraded “at an accelerated rate”, exposing the composite structure underneath to potential corrosion. The Qatar aviation regulatory agency instructed Qatar Airways to ground the affected aircraft, which in August were thirteen A350s but which according to Al Baker are now twenty.

Al Baker said in London that grounding these A350s has caused “a very large dent” in the airline’s operations. It has been forced to bring some A380s out of deep storage and prepare them for a return to service to London and Paris in December.

Back in August, Airbus said that “most of the root causes (of the quality issue) have been identified. No additional inspections are required beyond existing scheduled maintenance. Airbus continues to monitor the situation and is in regular contact with its customers and the regulatory authorities.”
Today in London, Al Baker made clear he isn’t convinced about the position of Airbus. “They acknowledge that they are working to find a solution, which means they don’t have a solution, and they don’t have a solution because they don’t know why it is happening.” The Qatar CEO compared the issue with the production and quality issues Boeing has with the 787, saying: “Boeing’s problems with the 787 are “dwarfed” by that at the A350.”

Following the Qatar statement in August, none of the other A350 operators confirmed that they had any quality issues. Asked during its Q2-results presentation in September, Air Lease Corporation’s John Plueger said: “We have not seen this concern shared by any other airworthiness authority or by any other airline, nor has Airbus told us that there is any reason for concern. I am not minimizing what they (Qatar Airways) are saying. I am saying that we have not heard this from anybody else.”

Reuters reveals issues with more airlines

But in a news report on November 29, Reuters revealed that paint quality problems have existed for almost five years. In documents seen by the news agency, Finnair was one of the first to report them in October 2016, followed in November by Cathay Pacific which experienced “paint peeling problems on multiple aircraft.” In early 2017, Lufthansa brought problems to the attention of Airbus but that most problems have been corrected. Air France and Etihad are also suffering from A350 paint issues.

On pictures published by Reuters, it can be clearly seen that paint fails to adhere properly to the composite surface, comes loose, and starts peeling, exposing the structure underneath it. It appears that the issue particularly happens where the paint is applied to and near titanium rivets and near the mesh or expanded copper foil of the lightning protection system. This could lead to corrosion of the copper.

The first A350-900 for SAS in the paint shop in September 2019. The carrier has found no quality issues so far. (Airbus)

SAS hasn’t seen the issues, CEO Anko van der Werff replied to a question from AirInsight during today’s FY21 results presentation. “I spoke briefly about it with a few in the industry last month. We are still checking ourselves but we haven’t immediately identified anything. Of course, if we do, then we will get in touch with lessors and Airbus.” French airlines Air Caraibes and French Bee also haven’t seen large issues.

Boeing 787 has also suffered from paint peeling

The A350 isn’t the only composite airliner suffering from paint peeling. So has been the Boeing 787. A Safety Alert To Operators from the US Department of Transportation from April 2020 says:

“The Boeing Company reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that certain Boeing model 787 airplanes are prone to paint adhesion failures due to Ultra Violet (UV) ray damage. Eleven in-service Boeing 787 operators have reported vacuum-type fall-arrest protection systems failing due to the paint lifting off and away from the surface of the upper wing skin.”

The document added: “Boeing attributed the paint peeling to Ultra Violet (UV) ray damage between the primer and the resin layers on the upper wing. In many cases, the paint peeling became apparent when the vacuum-type fall[1]arrest protection system was attached to the airplane surface and became detached when the paint lifted away from the surface of the plane, disabling its ability to provide fall protection for personnel, resulting in possible injury.”

The document recommended that“all operators and repair facilities should review their fall protection procedures. If they allow suction grip type units to be attached to the B-787 upper wing surfaces, they should stop such actions or procedures.”

As Qatar Airways criticizes Airbus for the lack of progress on the A350 paint issue, this means that the airline isn’t in the mood to buy the Airbus A350 Freighter, which won its first orders for eleven in the Dubai Airshow week. Instead, Al Baker hinted in London to place a very large order for the Boeing 777X Freighter, once the model has been officially launched. Boeing said in Dubai that it needed more time.

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