Airbus Changing A350 Aircraft Design Amid Dispute With Qatar

  • Airbus has changed the copper foil used on its A350 aircraft, which protects from lightning strikes.
  • In 2021, Qatar Airways sued Airbus over chipped paint that exposes the copper mesh, citing a safety risk.
  • The two companies have been in a legal battle for months over the issue, which Airbus says is “cosmetic.”

Airbus has redesigned a core component of its A350 aircraft.

The European planemaker confirmed to Insider on Monday that it is changing the metal coating used on its jets, replacing the expanded copper foil (ECF) with a perforated copper foil (PCF). The copper foil sits between the paint and the carbon fuselage to protect the aircraft from lightning strikes.

According to Airbus, the company started “progressively” using PCF on A350 aircraft “fuselage section by fuselage section,” starting with deliveries in late 2022. But it noted the old copper foil is still being used as well.

The change is significant considering Airbus’ ongoing battle with Qatar Airways over the old copper foil — a dispute worth $2 billion, per Reuters.

In 2021, the airline filed a lawsuit with the manufacturer over surface paint issues on the A350. According to Qatar, the cracked paint exposes the copper mesh and poses a safety threat, resulting in the grounding of over two dozen A350 jets.

Cracked paint on Qatar A350.

An undated image shows what appears to be paint peeling, cracking and exposed expanded copper foil (ECF) on the fuselage of a Qatar Airways Airbus A350 aircraft.

Reuters



Airbus has maintained the issue is simply “cosmetic,” and other A350 operators, like Delta Air Lines and Etihad Airways, have noted damage but do not view it as a safety concern. Nor have any of the carriers grounded their widebodies over the problem.

However, Airbus told Insider that the ECF replacement “is not connected to the Qatar litigation,” but the decision was made in 2019 to reduce weight as the new copper foil is lighter.

“This enhancement is part of the usual continuous aircraft development which is entirely standard in the industry,” a company spokesperson said.

The planemaker also confirmed that the new PCF will “boost the durability of the paint system even though it wasn’t developed for this.”

Nevertheless, Qatar questioned the redesign in court on Thursday, asking for an analysis of how a lightning strike could impact the safety of flight.

Specifically, the airline requested modeling data of the A350, though, according to Reuters, French authorities said the sharing of that information could pose a security threat because the designs are used by European governments.

While Qatar accused Airbus of skirting data sharing, lawyers on both sides have provisionally arranged to provide the data. A corporate trial will take place in June if a settlement cannot be reached.

Qatar declined to comment on the matter when reached by Insider.

Over the past year, the dispute between Airbus and Qatar has become more serious. In January 2022, the planemaker made a rare move, canceling the airline’s order for 50 Airbus A321 jets, and later canceled all of Qatar’s A350 orders in September.

Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker said in December 2021 that the problem has “destroyed” the airline’s relationship with Airbus.

Though, the manufacturer stood by the A350 at the time, saying, “the attempt by this customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue represents a threat to the international protocols on safety matters.”

However, Airbus told Insider in September that it is open to a settlement, and company CEO Guillaume Faury told Reuters in June that there was “progress in the sense that we are communicating.”

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