DOHA, QATAR – Although Qatar Airways is not usually in the practice of issuing detailed media statements, given the inaccurate information and statements that continue to be issued by Airbus and in the interests of our customers and the industry, we now do so.
The judgment handed down by the justice, Mr. Justice Waksman in a hearing in the High Court on Thursday (26 May) has exposed for all in the aviation sector to see, the fiction of the Airbus narrative that the condition affecting the Airbus A350s is a simple “cosmetic” paint issue. In his ruling, based on evidence provided by Airbus, Mr. Justice Waksman set out his findings that there is “no simple fix to the problem” and that the only current proposed remedy, which involves extensive and potentially repeated patching of the fuselage of all affected aircraft, “deals with the symptoms of the Condition, not the Condition itself.”
Qatar Airways will receive full disclosure on the details of the accelerated surface degradation condition from Airbus for the first time, in advance of the trial, however, for the time being Mr. Justice Waksman’s independent assessment of the Condition is an important milestone.
His ruling states: “Further, it is not suggested that these problems are one-off, confined only to the aircraft already delivered to Qatar or further aircraft the subject of the A350 Agreement. Indeed, Airbus’s own positive case, as pleaded in its Defence, is that the Condition is effectively bound to occur at some point in the lifetime of an A350 aircraft because it results from a different coefficient of expansion as between the composite fibre reinforced polymer (“CFRP”) of which the airframe is made, and the expanded copper foil layer (“the ECF”) which is bonded to, or cured onto it.
The reason for the presence of the ECF is to act as a lightning conductor which prevents serious damage to the aircraft in the event of a direct lightning strike which is said to happen, on average, once a year to passenger aircraft in regular service. What this difference in the coefficient of expansion means is that these two sets of material expand and contract at different rates and at least in the form present on the A350, leads over time to (at least) the cracking of the layers of paint above.
Airbus’s present position is that in respect of the A350s already delivered to Qatar and perhaps future A350s whose assembly has not yet been completed, there is no simple fix to the problem. The only thing that can be done is to apply patches to all affected areas (principally the fuselage) which could be as many as 900. That was the figure quoted by Airbus in respect of the aircraft where repainting work was done at Shannon Airport.
Patching for other aircraft may not be quite as extensive but on any view it would seem to be considerable. The word “patch” is appropriate here. It deals with the symptoms of the Condition, not the Condition itself. The Condition itself cannot be rectified by, for example, applying some yet further coating, with or without the paintwork being removed. Nor can it be achieved by removing the ECF (which is very difficult anyway since it is cured onto the CFRP) and applying a replacement ECF. In any event, unless the new ECF differed in its composition or design from its predecessor, the Condition would be likely to emerge again, in time. The same appears to be the position if there was a simple repainting of the aircraft.
It follows as a matter of logic that the Condition has resulted from the design of the aircraft so far as the relevant materials are concerned. There are only two possibilities. Either the use of this relatively new form of airframe made of CFRP (instead of a metal like aluminium), combined with any kind of ECF, will inevitably cause the Condition or something like it. Or it is in fact possible to design and manufacture the relevant materials, staying faithful to the use of CFRP, but in a way which avoids the Condition arising in the first place.
The former possibility seems unlikely. That is at least because the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is also made of CFRP and yet such aircraft (which first entered service in 2011) seem not to have exhibited the Condition. This was a point made in submissions by Qatar. For its part, Airbus adduced no evidence to suggest that the 787 had manifested the Condition.”
A spokesperson for Qatar Airways said: “We have long been arguing that there is more to this issue than just paint and that the remedies proposed by Airbus do not deal with the fundamental issues affecting the A350. We’re very pleased that this view has now been understood and accepted by the court.”
Airbus continues to maintain that the issue is not a safety issue, however, Qatar Airways is of the opinion that the impact of the condition on safety of the affected aircraft can only be established once the condition has been properly investigated and the full root cause conclusively established.
Airbus continues to refer to the condition as a paint condition, despite the damage occurring to the underlying fuselage, and they maintain that this results from the fact that the A350 fuselage is of composite construction, however, Qatar Airways operates many other aircraft which incorporate composite elements and to date have no evidence of any such condition.
Qatar Airways has not found any other manufacturer that believes that such a condition is an acceptable condition associated with composite construction.
In relation to the A321 contract cancellation, Qatar Airways is extremely concerned about the precedent that Airbus is setting in the market to wrongfully terminate a launch customer aircraft order as they no longer wish to abide by the terms which they committed to and are legally obligated to, having entered into such arrangements freely.
Qatar Airways remains within its contractual rights to reject delivery of further A350 aircraft whilst the aircraft type suffers from a design defect which has now been acknowledged by the court, and for Airbus to abuse its strength in the market to terminate a separate and unrelated contract for another aircraft type is extremely damaging for our industry.
Qatar Airways is ready to see this matter through to trial to ensure that its rights are protected and that Airbus is required to address an unprecedented and extremely unique and concerning defect impacting the A350 aircraft type, across the industry and multiple carriers.
Qatar Airways welcomes the judgement of the High Court and looks forward to the full expedited Trial. The required early disclosure from Airbus will give us an insight into the true nature of surface degradation affecting the A350s.
Our approach to this issue reflects our commitment to Qatar Airways’ collective mission to achieve “Excellence in everything that we do,” especially when it comes to the safety of our passengers and crew.”