Boeing Asks FAA to Approve Peeling Paint Fix


Aircraft industry company The Boeing Company recently outlined paint peeling issues on its 787 Dreamliner jetliners, asking United States regulators to approve its plan for a potential fix.

In a petition for exemption to the Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing explained that the paint peeling occurs on the upper and lower surfaces of the wing and horizontal stabilizer due to exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Proposed Fix

Prior to its request, Boeing would use speed tape over affected areas. According to reports, this short-term fix led some passengers to post photos online of 787 wings with tape and raise concerns.

“Even though the use of speed tape has no effect on the safety of the airplane, the public could perceive an unsafe condition when seeing tape on the wing surfaces,” Boeing wrote to the FAA in a regulatory filing.

Because of this, Boeing has requested that the FAA to approve its plan to incorporate a layer of UV-blocking black topcoat between the primer and the white topcoat, as well as increasing the total allowed exterior finish thickness.

The proposed fix would affect fuel tank lighting protection and, since black color has an increased absorptivity of UV radiation relative to the existing paint scheme, impact fuel tank lightning ignition prevention.

Additionally, Boeing said that the “petition will address a fleet significant maintenance issue that is creating a public perception of an unsafe condition as well as creating the potential for significant airplane downtime” and that “paint peeling issue requires the operators to repaint the wing and horizontal stabilizer at a much higher frequency.”

Repainting for UV damage also reportedly requires removal of the UV damaged material by sanding, increasing the risk of collateral copper foil and CFRP damage and subsequent repair, further increasing the cost and downtime of the more frequent repainting.

In a statement to Reuters, the company said that it had asked the FAA to approve the proposed change to “eliminate the paint adhesion issue experienced on some 787s. We understand the importance of a pristine appearance for our products to both our customers and the flying public.”

Other design change requests include adding cap seals over the nuts of certain 787 wing skin fasteners because certain combinations could lead to ignition sources in the fuel tank. 

On Monday (Nov. 15), the FAA said it would carefully review Boeing’s petition.

Reports indicated that the exterior issue is similar to that of the carbon-composite jets in the ongoing Airbus and Qatar Airways dispute, with the surface “deteriorating” on Airbus’ A350 jets. However, both Airbus and Boeing say that the lightweight models are safe, with Airbus stating it’s a “harmless” problem with the way paint and carbon interact.

Boeing explained that its coating problems stem from UV light, while the upcoming Airbus-Qatar court case will focus on conditions within the multi-layered exterior. Airbus declined to comment to Reuters on the 787 paint news.

Paint Issues on Airbus Jets

Almost a year ago, an investigation by Reuters found that Qatar and at least five other airline companies raised concerns regarding degrading paint surfaces on the Airbus A350, with the earliest reports of paint problems dating back to 2016.

The issue, while considered “cosmetic” and not a matter of safety, shows exposed mesh developing in the jet’s gaps, exposing the carbon-fiber fuselage to possible damage.

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.

At the beginning of December last year, Airbus announced that it was seeking independent legal assessment to resolve the dispute, citing that the two parties were unable to settle during discussions. The company also noted that the surface paint-related findings were assessed and confirmed by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), with no airworthiness impacts on the A350s.

On Dec. 20, 2021, Qatar announced that it had issued legal proceedings against Airbus in the Technology and Construction division of the High Court in London. It added that 21 of its A350 aircraft were grounded due to paint flaws.

Then, in January, a 30-page court document showed that the airline was seeking compensation from Airbus for the surface flaws on its A350 jetliners. For the partial grounding, Qatar is seeking $618 million in contractual compensation, with an additional $4 million for each day the jets remain out of service.

Later that month, Airbus confirmed that it had canceled the $6 billion contract with Qatar for 50 of its new A321 passenger jets. The deal was reportedly worth $6.35 billion when it was finalized in December 2017.

Qatar also announced that it had sought an expedited hearing for the legal proceedings against Airbus in the High Court of England regarding the surface degradation on the Airbus 350 fleets. The airline provided video of the reported defects, welcoming the court to order a hearing in April to come to a resolution in the dispute.

Shortly after the contract was canceled, on Jan. 31, Qatar announced that it had ordered up to 50 large cargo planes and committed to buying up to 50 Boeing 737 Max jets at a deal worth $34 billion. Qatar also asked the court to reinstate the order for the 50 Airbus passenger jets in a court filing. If not granted, the airline requested the judge to award them $600 million in damages.

Not long after, on Feb. 28, Airbus also filed court documentation requesting it be awarded $220 million in damages over the two undelivered jets. The company noted it wants to recover millions of dollars of credits awarded to the airline.

The same day, Qatar released a statement saying the High Court issued an injunction against Airbus, ordering they must no do anything between the date of the order and the hearing in April to adversely affect its ability to comply with any court order that Qatar might obtain from the cancellation of the contract. The airline added “neither Qatar Airways nor its legal team are aware of any efforts by Airbus to try to resolve the situation in an amicable way; in fact, the actual situation is to the contrary.”

In March, the owner of British Airways, International Airlines Group, reported that it was experiencing surface degradation on its Airbus A350 jets, similar to paint defects Qatar Airways found on its aircraft. IAG Chief Executive Luis Gallego said that the issues do not impact the airworthiness of the aircraft.

“We have informed in our case EASA, and EASA told us that the level of degradation that we are experiencing doesn't impact the airworthiness of the aircraft,” he said. “We have a young fleet of 350s and usually you can see the defect when you have the opportunity to stop the aircraft for a check.”

And in April, in court documents obtained by Bloomberg, Qatar has stated that paint layers on large parts of affected A350s have been so badly damaged that wind and pollutants, such as salt or hydraulic fluids, can penetrate through the skin and damage the lightning protection of the aircraft. An area of concern includes the wings, where the fuel tanks are located.

According to the court document, seen damage includes spider cracks, severe cracking on and around window frames, exposure of the lightning protection and of the underlying composite surface and damage to the lighting protection layer. Pictures were provided in the statement as proof of the damage.

In the filing, the air carrier cited a European Union Aviation Safety Agency safety assessment from April last year, which notes that the lightning threat would pose a danger if it were co-incident with fuel tanks. Since then, Qatar has reported that damage can be seen on the wings, indicating co-incident with the fuel tanks.

In May, a British judge denied Qatar’s request to reinstate the jet contract canceled at the beginning of the year. According to reports, the judge rejected Qatar’s claim that it could not find alternatives for the jets, including leasing or deploying 737 MAX jets that it has ordered from Boeing. The ruling means that Airbus can now market its A321neos to other airlines or remove them from industrial plans to ease factory congestion.

The following month, Airbus announced it was engaged in talks with Qatar Airways to resolve a dispute of paint degradation, just days after the European Union Aviation Safety Agency defended its stance that the jets pose no safety issue.

Additionally, Reuters journalists were granted access to two of the grounded airliners in the Qatari capital, Doha, during the International Air Transport Association’s annual meeting. Sporadic surface flaws on the A350s viewed by the team included an elongated stretch of blistered and cracked or missing paint along the roof or crown of the jets.

Reporters also noted that protective lightning mesh that sits between the hull and the paint was exposed and corroded, with other parts missing, leaving areas of the composite hull exposed. Paint on the tail was cracking and missing paint, as well as small areas of what appeared to be fraying or delaminated carbon threads on the hull and so-called “rivet rash” or lost paint from fastener heads on the main wing areas.

The two sides are scheduled to head to a three-month trial in June 2023, with no signs of a settlement being accepted at the time.


Tagged categories: Adhesion; aircraft; Asia Pacific; Aviation; Coating Application; Coating failure; Coating/Film Thickness; Coatings; Design; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); Latin America; North America; Paint defects; Peeling; Program/Project Management; Quality Control; UV resistance; Z-Continents

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