Airbus’s expensive paint flaw is wider than the Gulf

An undated image shows what appears to be peeling, cracked paint and exposed expansion copper foil (ECF) on the fuselage of a Qatar Airways A350
An undated image shows what appears to be peeling paint, cracking and exposing expanded copper foil (ECF) on the fuselage of a Qatar Airways A350 plane that was landed by Qatar’s regulator . Image obtained by Reuters.

November 29, 2021

By Tim Hepher and Alexander Cornwell

DUBAI (Reuters) – The dispute between Airbus and Qatar Airways over paint and surface defects on its A350 jet extends beyond the Gulf, with at least five other airlines raising concerns since the public modeling high-tech comes into operation, according to documents from Reuters and some airlines. who have direct knowledge of the matter.

Qatar’s national airline, which has grounded 20 of its 53 A350s, said it was acting on orders from local regulators, until it could confirm the reasons that witnesses described as appearance of some A350s with blisters and pitting.

Airbus says there is no risk to the safety of the A350 – a position echoed by other airlines, which do not accommodate any jets and describe the problem as “aesthetic”.

The aircraft manufacturer said in response to Reuters queries that there had been some problems with “initial surface wear” where, in some cases, an extra layer of mesh designed to lightning absorption that the company is trying to overcome.

At Qatar Airways and at least one other airline, three people with direct knowledge of the situation said, in some cases, the mesh itself created gaps, leaving the fuselage flat. carbon fiber is subject to weathering or other damage.

Airbus says the A350, which entered service in 2015, is designed with rich protection against hurricanes and is deployed around the world with high reliability.

When asked about gaps in the grid, they said some airlines suffer from higher temperature variations than others, such as desert conditions in Qatar.

Qatar Airways has called for the exact cause to be determined and a permanent fix to the satisfaction of the airline’s regulator. Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority declined to comment.

Two people familiar with the grounding decision said it was based on ongoing uncertainty about the causes and effects of surface degradation and holes in lightning protection.

Airbus said it had found the root cause, but sources from the two affected airlines said they were not notified of a cause.

The clock is ticking on a compensation battle that sources say could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars after Qatar Airways halted deliveries of an additional 23 A350s on order.

The clash between two of the aviation industry’s most powerful players became public in May, six months after Qatar Airways sent an A350 to be stripped and repainted in a special FIFA paint job. The World Cup will be held in the Gulf country next year.

But what for months has been widely presented as a separate issue linked to the severe heat in Qatar is spreading further, according to a separate maintenance message board used by Airbus and A350 operators. and reviewed by Reuters.

Messages showing Finnair, which operates in the colder north, had raised paint concerns as early as 2016 and reported in October 2019 that damage had spread below the lightning grid.

Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Lufthansa and Air France – acting as maintenance suppliers for Air Caraibes – also complained of paint damage.

Following previously unreported issues, last year Airbus formed a “multi-functional task force” to research new materials to protect against lightning for future A350 jets. two people familiar with the matter said.

Finnair, Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa confirmed some of their A350s have suffered what they describe as cosmetic damage. Air Caraibes said it and sister airline French Bee have seen “no paint problems” and, in particular, no safety-related issues. Air France said its A350 planes had been operating normally since it began flying them in 2021 and declined to comment on Air Caraibes. Etihad declined to comment.

To be sure, Qatar Airways has had disputes with suppliers in the past before reaching compromise agreements. Its CEO Akbar Al Baker has periodically criticized both Airbus and American rival Boeing for strategic and manufacturing flaws.

Analysts say the dispute coincides with efforts by many airlines to reduce exposure to long-haul jets in the wake of the pandemic. Gulf industry sources deny commercial motives for the grounding, noting that Qatar desperately needs the jet for the World Cup.

Airbus is not alone in facing the problems. Boeing has experienced paint problems and a phenomenon known as rivet rash, or patches of lost paint, on its competing 787s. A spokesman said it was not safety related and was being worked on.

However, the unusual partial grounding of Qatar comes at a delicate time for Airbus as it races to hit its year-end delivery target and as Qatar Airways research provides from Boeing https:/ / qatar-airways-hope-take-delivery-boeing-777x-plane-2023-ceo-2021-11-17 to replace a fleet of 34 freighters.


In October 2016, a year after becoming the first European operator of the A350, Finnair reported paint damage, according to the message board. It then complained “the paint is in very bad condition.”

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific, which uses a different paint supplier, reported similar problems the same month. Nearly a year later, the airline said it “continues to experience paint peeling problems on many aircraft”.

In a post, it revealed that problems were found on an A350 just two weeks after delivery.

“We can confirm that we have experienced several issues with the A350 paintwork and have worked with… Airbus to resolve these issues,” a Finnair spokesman said, adding that the problem was is “aesthetic, but natural unfortunately”.

Cathay Pacific confirmed that some of its A350 planes had been “aesthetically damaged to some extent”. It said the issue had been fully investigated and had no safety implications.

In October 2017, messages showed that Lufthansa had also found areas of peeling, some spanning more than a square meter.

Lufthansa says occasional cosmetic defects have been corrected and safety has never been compromised.


Paint has played an important role in branding and diplomacy in the jet age, presenting the image of airlines and countries around the world. But the move to new light jets has presented a setback.

When Airbus launched the A350 15 years ago, it chose to follow Boeing’s new 787 in using carbon fiber instead of metal.

The lighter jets consume less fuel but are harder to peel off in a way that makes the paint stick, experts say.

The new jets also need a layer of metal mesh to dissipate the lightning because carbon fiber does not conduct electricity.

Finally, unlike metals, carbon does not expand and contract as temperature changes. However, paint does, resulting in a tug between the plane and the paint that can cause peeling over time.

The problems reported by Qatar Airways and some – though far from all – other A350 operators indicated this occurred earlier than expected, two people familiar with the design said.

They added that the problem could be due to the paint’s particularly weak adhesion to titanium studs.

Some industry experts have questioned whether other manufacturing defects could also be contributing to the problem.

Images posted by Finnair on message boards in 2019, seen by Reuters, appear to show a corroded or missing mesh known as Expanded Copper Foil. Finnair and Airbus declined to comment on the photos, but Airbus officials say the specific issue may have stemmed from an initial manufacturing issue, which was later resolved.

A350 Chief Engineer Miguel Angel LLorca Sanz said: “We have seen no structural damage to the aircraft and operators continue to fly with a high level of operational reliability.

“This has absolutely no effect on lightning protection due to (safety) limitations… It is not a matter of aerial reliability at all,” he said in an interview.

Industry sources say Airbus is still considering updating the lightning system to a more flexible material called Perforated Copper Foil.

Airbus confirmed this was one of the options under consideration.

That still leaves a war of words over existing planes sitting idly by with their windows plastered over Qatar.

Photos obtained by Reuters show cracked or missing paintwork and exposed or corroded lightning protection on at least two of the jets.

Now, regulators must try to break the deadlock over whether that type of damage is within the acceptable range for dealing with lightning, which Airbus insists will still wash out safely across the globe. jet plane. That can determine whether indemnification provisions are activated.

While European regulators say there is no evidence of a safety risk, Qatar is urging further analysis and shows no immediate signs of backing down.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher, Alexander Cornwell; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed and Ilona Wissenbach; Editing by Mark Potter) Airbus’s expensive paint flaw is wider than the Gulf

Bobby Allyn

Bobby Allyn is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Bobby Allyn joined USTimeToday in 2022 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with Bobby Allyn by emailing

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