Exclusive: Inside the hangar at the center of the $1 billion Airbus-Qatar jet dispute

Exclusive: Inside the hangar at the center of the $1 billion Airbus-Qatar jet dispute

DOHA, June 22 (Reuters) – Two high-tech Airbus A350 planes sit idle with windows sealed and engines covered in a lighted hangar in the Gulf, hampered by an international legal dispute between European industrial giant Airbus (AIR.PA). and Qatar. national carrier.

From a distance, the planes may look like any other long-haul airliners crowding Doha’s busy downtown. But a rare on-site visit by Reuters journalists showed what appeared to be evidence of surface damage to parts of the wings, tail and hull.

The two planes, worth around $300 million combined according to analysts, are among 23 A350s on the ground at the center of a $1 billion court battle in London over whether the damage poses a potential risk to the airline. security, something that Airbus flatly denies.

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The planes were grounded by the Qatari regulator after premature paint erosion exposed damage to a metal sublayer that provides lightning protection to the fuselage.

Other airlines continue to fly the A350 after European regulators declared the plane safe.

Reuters journalists were granted first-hand access after requesting the visit on the sidelines of an airline industry meeting in the Qatari capital Doha this week.

Sporadic surface defects on the A350s seen by Reuters included an elongated stretch of blistered and cracked or missing paint along the planes’ roof or crown.

In some areas, including the curved wingtips, the lightning protection mesh that sits between the hull and the paint appeared exposed and corroded.

Elsewhere it appeared to be missing, leaving areas of the composite hull exposed.

The paint on the tail of one of the A350s emblazoned with Qatar Airways’ maroon Arabian Oryx emblem was chipped with cracked and missing paint exposing the layer beneath.

Reuters saw small areas of what appeared to be frayed or frayed carbon threads in the hull and so-called “rivet breakage” or paint loss from fastener heads in the main wing areas.

Airbus and Qatar Airways had no immediate comment on the Reuters findings.

Airbus shares fell 3% on Wednesday morning.

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Airbus acknowledges the quality flaws of the A350s, but denies they pose any safety risks due to the number of supporting systems and tolerance built into the design.

Qatar Airways has argued that this cannot be known until further analysis and refuses to take any more planes.

Airbus has argued that some paint erosion is a feature of the carbon composite technology used to build all modern long-haul aircraft, a necessary trade-off to save weight.

He says the cracks are caused by the way the paint, the anti-lightning material called ECF, and the composite structure interact. Not all of the tail contains the ECF sheet, which caused a debate as to whether the damage stems from the same problem.

Qatar Airways has disputed Airbus’s explanation, telling a UK court that its similar Boeing 787s do not have the same problems.

Amid hundreds of pages of conflicting technical court filings submitted by both sides, Reuters has been unable to independently verify the cause of the damage.

Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker and Airbus Chief Executive Guillaume Faury had a chance to mingle during the three-day industry meeting in Qatar this week.

When asked if the relationship had improved after the event, which included the two men sitting next to each other at dinner, Al Baker suggested that the two parties stay away.

“On a personal level, I’m everyone’s friend, but when it comes to a problem with my company, then it’s a different story. If things were fixed, we wouldn’t be waiting for a trial to take place next year,” he told Press conference.

Faury said this week that he was in talks with the airline and reported “progress in the sense that we are communicating.”

One of the airline industry’s top officials raised concerns after the Doha meeting that the dispute could have a toxic effect on contractual ties across the industry.

“It would be much better if we were dealing with friends than in court,” Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, told reporters.

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Reporting by Alexander Cornwell and Tim Hepher Editing by Mark Potter and Louise Heavens

Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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