Qatar Airways has grounded 13 of its Airbus A350 fleet. The airline cited the fuselage surface below the paint degrading at an accelerated rate. The issue seems to have been first discovered when an aircraft flew to Ireland for a World Cup paint job earlier this year.
The Airbus A350 is a vital part of the Qatar Airways fleet. However, recently the airline’s CEO, Akbar Al Baker, has had powerful words about the fleet, going as far as to stop further A350 deliveries. Now, the airline has grounded 13 of its fleet of A350 aircraft on the advice of regulators.
Commenting on the issue, an Airbus spokesperson told Simple Flying,
“As a leading aircraft manufacturer we are always in talks / working with our customers. Those talks we keep confidential. We have no further comment on our customer’s operations.”
What’s the problem?
According to Qatar Airways, 13 Airbus A350 aircraft have suffered accelerated surface degradation below the paint scheme. The Airbus A350 has a composite fuselage as opposed to the traditional aluminum fuselage of older aircraft.
Qatar Airways says it has been working closely with the Qatari aviation regulator regarding the issue. The regulator has now issued ‘explicit written instructions’ to ground the 13 aircraft affected by the issue. The aircraft will remain grounded until the cause of the degradation has been established and a permanent fix has been made possible.
The story seems to have started back in November 2020. Back then, the airline sent a four-year-old Airbus A350-900 to Shannon in Ireland. The IAC paint shop was due to apply a livery celebrating next year’s football world cup in Qatar.
Some more impressions from today's roll-out of the stripped A350 prior to ferry to TLS. pic.twitter.com/CBaqI6562M
— Oisín Tierney (@TierneyOisin) January 3, 2021
When they stripped the paint off, the paint shop reportedly found cracks in the aircraft surface, though Airbus later clarified at the time that these were “superficial/cosmetic and only visible when the top coat of paint is stripped.”
In early January, the aircraft was ferried across to Toulouse without a paint scheme applied to undergo further examination. The aircraft has remained in Toulouse since, and it seems as though this is what has been observed on the other 12 aircraft.
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Around the start of June, Qatar Airways was threatening to stop taking delivery of the Airbus A350, although, in an interview, Al Baker said that the issue wasn’t to do with paint jobs. Just days later, on June 8th, Qatar Airways made the call to stop future Airbus A350 deliveries. Since then, Akbar Al Baker has been relatively tight-lipped on what exactly was the issue with the A350.
Even as recently as July 21st, when Al Baker was interviewed during a Flightplan webinar, he refused to reveal the issue but didn’t hold back on Airbus,
“Unfortunately I cannot get into the details… [Airbus] are ignoring the fact that there is a serious issue with our problems that we are facing with [the A350s]. they are just trying to dilly dally and drag their feet instead of becoming real and solving the problem that their airplane has.”
Will other airlines be affected?
So far, it is only Qatar Airways that has had to ground aircraft. There have been no suggestions that any other carriers have been affected. Qatar Airways has partnerships with several other Airbus A350 operators around the world. For example, the Qatar Airways Group holds shares of the International Airlines Group and LATAM.
When asked if he would speak to his partner A350 operators about the issue, Al Baker told the Flightplan webinar,
“I don’t want to influence any of those airlines, we are just a strategic shareholder. When they know that Qatar Airways has an issue, of course, it raises their eyebrows too. They will want to know what this problem is because they also are flying those same airplanes. That problem is not only unique to QR. I’m sure those problems that we have today are going to be reflected in those airplanes that they fly to because they are operators of the 350”
The Qatar Airways Airbus A350 fleet
Qatar Airways was the launch customer for both the Airbus A350-900 and the Airbus A350-1000. According to data from ch-aviation.com, the airline has taken delivery of 34 of the -900 and 19 of the -1000. A further 23 of the larger Airbus A350-1000 are still on order, waiting for this issue to be resolved before they have a hope of delivery.
While it isn’t confirmed that these are the aircraft involved in the grounding, ch-aviation.com lists 11 Airbus A350-900s as stored, alongside two -1000s, giving a total of 13. One of these -900s is A7-ALL, the aircraft in Toulouse which is listed as being in Maintenance. The oldest aircraft listed as stored is A7-ALA, the first A350 to be delivered. It is a 6.81-year-old A350-900.
Meanwhile, the youngest stored Airbus A350 is a 3.02-year old -1000 registered as A7-ANC. The average age of the 13 aircraft listed as stored is five years of age. This compares to an average age of 4.3 for the -900 fleet and 2.2 for the -1000 fleet.
Earlier this week, Airbus announced the launch of a freight version of the A350. Qatar Airways was understood to be keen to place an order for such an aircraft, but that now seems unlikely until the existing issues are resolved.
Airbus A330 replacement
Days ago, Simple Flying reported that Qatar Airways was reactivating its Airbus A330 fleet. It now seems that we know why. The airline revealed that it is doing all it can to ensure the issues don’t impact customers.
Discussing the subject, Qatar Airways revealed that it has already taken action to return its Airbus A330 fleet to offset the impact of the grounded A350 aircraft. This includes aircraft from both the -300 and -200 families. The -300s have primarily been used for cargo flights thus far, suggesting that Qatar Airways may have been anticipating today’s news.
What do you make of the news that Qatar Airways has grounded 13 Airbus A350 aircraft? Let us know what you think and why in the comments below!