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  • Writer's pictureGavin Ang

Qatar Airways vs. Airbus: A RECAP

Updated: Aug 4, 2022



Most headlines dominating aviation news these days is the ongoing feud between the venerable aircraft manufacturer Airbus and the award-winning airline Qatar Airways. Recently, both Qatar and Airbus have escalated their stakes in the conflict. Let us look at how this conflict began and how it has snowballed into a full-on legal battle, as well as what the future holds for both companies as a result of the ongoing feud.


 

UPDATE 4 AUG 2022

In the last few months, as Airbus and Qatar Airways became embroiled in a legal dispute over the structural integrity of some of Qatar Airways’ A350-900s which were found to be experiencing paint degradation, with each month mounting in a flurry of tit-for-tat actions from order cancellations to pursuing legal litigations in court. During the recent Farnborough Airshow, Qatar Airways and Boeing confirmed an order for 25 Boeing 737 MAX 10s, as Airbus has effectively canceled all narrowbody orders for Qatar Airways, which will begin a gradual shift of Qatar Airways’ majority Airbus fleet towards a majority Boeing fleet.



On 3rd August, it was reported by Reuters that Airbus has revoked all remaining A350 orders for Qatar Airways, a move which will propel Qatar Airways to move towards an all-Boeing fleet, as Airbus has quintessentially shut out the Middle-Eastern carrier from their current catalog of products. This may prove to be a major short-term issue for airline juggernaut, as Boeing itself is facing a multitude of problems with its current and future products; its Dreamliner production is still facing turmoil due to its certification issues, the Boeing 737 MAX 10 and Boeing 777X programs are facing major delays in receiving the required certification to fly commercially.


In order to mitigate the potential shortfall of supply for the next several years, Qatar Airways has ironically turned to restarting their pickled A380s, to cope with the surge in travel demand and shortage of A350s to fly long-haul routes. At this stage in the conflict, it is new extremely unlikely that the relationship between the two aviation behemoths will be fully resolved, and it is imminent that once Boeing’s production and certification issues have been resolved, the Boeing 777-9s, 777-8Fs, 787s and 737 MAXs will become the main cornerstone of Qatar Airways’ fleet within the next 10 years.


 

Prelude to a conflict

In late 2020, Qatar Airways had one of the largest fleets of Airbus A350s, and the airlines has used it extensively for its long and medium haul routes across the world, even throughout the most difficult periods of the pandemic.


In November 2020, as Qatar Airways raised concerns to Airbus upon its alleged discovery of paint chips and skin damage on one of its Airbus A350-900s during their preparation to paint the 2022 FIFA World Cup Livery on it. For several months, the two business behemoths were locked in discussions, with Qatar Airways becoming dissatisfied with Airbus’ lack of appreciation of the issues, and Airbus claiming that Qatar is simply escalating a cosmetic issue.

In August 2021, after discovering more paint issues on other A350s, Qatar Airways grounded the affected A350 fleet, which drew significant international notice in the aviation community. The Middle Eastern airline justified this move as it “had been monitoring the degradation beneath the paint on the fuselage of the aircraft for some time” and described the issue as a “significant condition”. As the dispute roiled on, in December that year, Airbus took the matter to court to seek legal advice over the Qatari airlines’ supposedly “misrepresenting the problem as a safety issue”. Qatar Airways countered it by launching another legal settlement in a UK court to claim up to 600 million US dollars in monetary compensation from Airbus due to the grounding.



Escalation and current situation

On 21st January 2022, Qatar Airways released an unlisted YouTube video, which was then published across numerous aviation-related sites. This one-and-half minute long video showed in detail the supposed damage as a result of the paint-flaking, from the exposed composites to the frayed copper mesh for the aircraft’s lightning protection system. This move, combined with the pending US$600 million legal lawsuit, prompted Airbus to cancel their orders for 50 A321neos, which severely impacted Qatar Airways’ plan to cover the short-medium haul high demand routes that her current fleet of A320s was unable to meet.

(Images from Qatar Airways)


A week later, Qatar Airways announced their intentions to purchase the 50 Boeing 737 MAX 10s, to cover the cancelled A321neo orders, which will cause a significant shift in Qatar Airways from a Airbus-majority to a Boeing-majority fleet. In addition, Qatar Airways is now confirmed to be the launch customer of the newly released Boeing 777-8F, a direct competitor to the Airbus A350F.


The latest escalation came today (Feb 9th 2022) with Airbus cancelling 2 of Qatar's A350-1000 orders, citing they have "notified Qatar's default on failure to take 2 deliveries." An Airbus Spokesperson further states "We confirm we did terminate delivery positions for 2 A350s with Qatar Airways in full compliance with our rights. In this unprecedented situation, this decision came as a last resort and followed many fruitless attempts to find mutually beneficial solutions."


There are no comments or responses from Qatar Airways at this time.


Afterthoughts

In this escalated war of words between the venerable aircraft manufacturer and the respected Middle Eastern carrier, the business relationship between the two have frosted over, with Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker claiming that Airbus has “destroyed” the relationship between the two. Airbus on the other hand stood steadfast on its ground and called this “attempt by (the) customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue” has “represent(ed) a threat to the international protocols on safety matters”,


It is still possible that the two companies may offer the olive branch and move forward, especially since Qatar Airways still have numerous Airbus aircraft in their service, including their remaining A350-900s and A350-1000s, as well as the A320s and A330s, not to mention their partially active fleet of A380s. However, the situation may continue its downward trend, after all, the business pride of both companies may just prevent that olive branch act from taking place. How the events will unfold, and the future of both Qatar Airways and Airbus, is yet to be seen.

(Images from Qatar Airways)


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