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

Doha: Qatar Airways is open to ‘constructively’ resolving issues with Airbus over the A350 aircraft, said its CEO Akbar Al Baker, as both companies are set to clash in a trial in 2023.

“We are always open to constructively resolving issues but we cannot accept somebody not following the contract they have signed with us,” said Al Baker on the sidelines of the IATA AGM in Doha. “At the moment, we are litigating and the date for the trial is already set by the judge.”

Last month, a judge in a UK court decided a ‘speedy trial’ would be the right way to settle the bitter dispute between the two. A dispute that has its origins on the paint job done to the Airbus A350s delivered – and on order – to the Qatari flag carrier.

Big dispute

The issue began in November 2020, when Qatar Airways discovered that paint was peeling off or missing on a five-year-old A350 jet. The airline also found cracks and damage to the plane’s lightning protection.

Qatar Airways then asked Airbus to determine the root cause of the defects. Following an inspection, the airline claimed that Airbus had not provided satisfactory answers to about 980 defects that it had found. On December 20 last year, Qatar Airways sued Airbus in the UK.

Meanwhile, Airbus has maintained that the damage to Qatar Airways’ A350s is ‘purely cosmetic’, and that the airline is rejecting its proposed fixes without good reason.

Al Baker also indicated that the airline would be operating the A380 jumbo-jets, brought in as replacement for the grounded A350s, for a foreseeable period of time. The upcoming FIFA World Cup, which is expected to bring in more than 1.2 million fans to Qatar, will require the airline to operate a significant number of airplanes to bring fans in.

“We will not singularly be able to bring all the capacity required,” said Al Baker. “We want to encourage other airlines to come here and bring capacity.”

Last month, Qatar Airways announced that Gulf carriers such as Saudia and flydubai will operate day-time shuttle services to Doha during the World Cup.

Hong Kong problem

Qatar Airways, which reportedly owns a 10 per cent stake in Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, will continue supporting the airline. Hong Kong’s aviation hub status has taken a hit due to its zero-COVID policy, which resulted in strict travel restrictions over the last two years.

“Hong Kong is a very important market for aviation, and I hope that the authorities will reconsider their (approach),” said Al Baker.

IATA’s Director General said it was crucial for Cathay Pacific to be able to operate without restrictions as the industry sees a travel rebound. “The longer Hong Kong operates with significant restrictions; the more structural damage will be done,” said Willie Walsh.