Airbus has terminated a contract with Qatar Airways for an order of 50 A321 aircraft, as the French plane maker and one of its top airline customers lock horns in a dispute over grounded A350 wide-body jets that has reached the courts.
“We confirm we did terminate the contract for 50 A321s with Qatar Airways in accordance with our rights,” an Airbus spokesman said.
Qatar Airways published a video in which it said "clearly shows these defects are not superficial and one of the defects causes the aircraft’s lightning protection system to be exposed and damaged, another defect leaves the underlying composite structure exposed to moisture and ultraviolet light, and other defects include cracking in the composite and damage around a high percentage of rivets on the aircraft fuselage".
The airline said it looks forward to a court decision on the dispute and believes that "Airbus must undertake a thorough investigation of this condition to conclusively establish its full root cause in order to establish whether any proposed repair solution will rectify the underlying condition and ensure no risk to the continued airworthiness of the aircraft".
The move heightens the tension between the Toulouse-based aircraft manufacturer and one of its biggest customers that has built over the past months as the two sides disagreed over the causes of and solutions to flaws on the surface paint of the twin-aisle A350 jets. Revoking the contract for a separate order of the A321 narrow-bodies, which are hard to come by due to long backlogs, exerts pressure on the airline whose home country is preparing to host the Fifa World Cup later this year.
Airbus shares fell 1.5 per cent following the announcement.
The matter came to a head on Thursday, with a procedural hearing over Qatar's claim for more than $600 million in compensation over A350 flaws scheduled for the week of April 26 in London, according to Bloomberg.
Qatar Airways discovered the defects last year when it sent one of its A350 aircraft to be repainted with the World Cup livery.
Airbus acknowledged the issue, conducted studies and offered remedies but insisted that the flaws did not represent a safety issue. Other airlines including Air France, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Lufthansa and Delta Air Lines have raised concerns over surface flaws on the A350 jet, according to Reuters.
The defects led Qatar's aviation regulator to ground 21 of the A350s. These represent 40 per cent of its current fleet of A350s, for which it was the launch customer with the biggest order.
However, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which is responsible for the overall design but not the locally regulated airworthiness of individual planes in service, has said it has not so far found safety problems with the A350s it has inspected.
Last month, Qatar Airways said it was filing a case against Airbus in the Technology and Construction division of the High Court in London.
“We have sadly failed in all our attempts to reach a constructive solution with Airbus in relation to the accelerated surface degradation condition adversely impacting the Airbus A350 aircraft,” it said in a December 20 statement. Qatar Airways has therefore been left with no alternative but to seek a rapid resolution of this dispute via the courts.”
Without a proper understanding of the root cause of the problem, Qatar Airways cannot establish whether any proposed repair solution will solve the underlying condition, it added, urging Airbus to “undertake a thorough investigation” of the issue.
Airbus will “vigorously defend its position”, it said in a December 20 statement.