Report: Paint Peeling, Cracking on Airbus Jets
Multiple airlines, most recently Qatar Airways, have reported coating problems and “early surface wear” with Airbus 350 jets. Originally, it was speculated that the desert heat in Qatar caused the degrading paint surface, but in an investigation conducted by Reuters, at least five other airlines have raised concerns.
Citing messages from Finnair, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Lufthansa and Air France (on behalf of Air Caraibes) on a private maintenance message board used by Airbus and A350 operators, the earliest reports of paint problems dates back to 2016.
Qatar Airways has grounded 20 of its 53 A350s, reportedly acting on orders from its local regulator due to witness reports of “blistered” and “pock-marked” appearances on its A350s.
While Airbus and the airlines describe the issue as “cosmetic” and not a matter of safety, witnesses also report that the coating issues with the Qatar jets have lead to the exposed mesh developing its own gaps, exposing the carbon-fiber fuselage to possible damage.
Airbus noted to Reuters that it is aware of the surface issues that in some cases had made visible a sub-layer of mesh designed to absorb lightning, which it is working to fix.
A dispute between Airbus and Qatar Airways over paint and surface flaws on A350 jets stretches beyond the Gulf, with at least five other airlines raising concerns since the model entered service, according to sources and documents seen by @Reuters https://t.co/tojQ6RDdJZ— Reuters (@Reuters) November 29, 2021
The A350, in service since 2015, is designed with ample protection to resist storms and is deployed around the world with high reliability, Airbus said in an emailed statement.
Europe’s first A350 operator Finnair reported paint damage a year after receiving its first A350, while Cathay Pacific stated similar problems just two weeks after taking their delivery of jets. Lufthansa said in 2017 that paint was peeling in areas as big as a square meter. The airline’s A350s were repainted by Airbus with new livery this year, reportedly free of charge under warranty.
“We can confirm that we have experienced some issues with A350 painting, and have been working together with ... Airbus to solve these issues,” a Finnair spokesperson said, adding the problem was “cosmetic, but naturally unfortunate.”
A350s have a carbon-fiber body instead of metal and utilize mesh for lightning conduction, which creates problems for surface preparation and painting. Another issue is paint expands with heat, while the carbon fiber does not.
Last year, Airbus created a mulit-functional task force to study new material for lightning protection on future A350 jets.
"We have seen no effect on the structure of the aircraft and operators continue to fly with high levels of operational reliability," A350 Chief Engineer Miguel Angel LLorca Sanz said in an interview. "This is not at all affecting the lightning strike protection due to the substantial (safety) margins ... It is not at all an airworthiness issue.”
Qatar Airways has also halted deliveries of 23 more A350s on order, potentially costing the companies hundreds of millions of dollars, until a solution has been found.
Airbus told Reuters that it has “found a root cause,” but it has not been disclosed and airlines say they have not been notified by the company.
Qatar, Airbus Disputes
Reuters reports that Qatar Airlines has previously had issues with Airbus, coming to light in May after the airline over the repainting of an A350 in livery for the FIFA World Cup in 2022.
Qatar Airways' Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker was quoted by Bloomberg at the time as saying the airline would refuse to take new aircraft from Airbus if it was not able to resolve the dispute.
Al Baker also said the airline would not take deliveries of any aircraft in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus crisis, but later reached an agreement with Airbus over delays. Details were reportedly not disclosed.
According to the report, Gulf industry sources deny commercial motives for the grounding, noting Qatar badly needs jets for the World Cup. In 2019, Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy Secretary-General Hassan al-Thawadi said that officials are estimating between 1.2 and 1.7 million people in attendance for the tournament, which kicks off Nov. 21, 2022.