Airbus has changed the components used in the fuselage of its A350 amid an ongoing legal dispute with Qatar Airways. The European aircraft manufacturer has been using alternative copper foil as a protective layer in new deliveries since the end of last year. At the same time, Airbus claims that the original design remains safe.
Airbus moved from “foamed” copper foil (ECF) to perforated foil (PCF) for layering between paint and A350 carbon fuselage. The ECF is the main component to ensure safety in the event of a lightning strike on the fuselage. This issue is at the center of a long-running $2 billion dispute between Airbus and Qatar Airways.
Airbus has confirmed that it is using the new PCF as a protective layer on the fuselages of aircraft delivered in late 2022. The properties of the material were known before, but it was not used in mass production. The concern admits that the new material is lighter than the foam and will help to cope with the problem of cracking, which Qatar drew attention to.
Qatar Airways is requesting raw simulation data of an A350 lightning strike simulation to prove that paint cracks could pose a safety hazard. However, Airbus concludes that the design using the former ECF remains completely safe.
Although the airline is not happy with the manufacturer's refusal tactics, both parties have reached a preliminary agreement to exchange data in a secure environment. This very complicated case is currently ongoing, with a trial scheduled for mid-2023 if no settlement can be reached.
For now, neither side is willing to concede, despite the fact that the leaders of France and Qatar now they are discussing a problematic situation between the flagship companies of the two countries. It looks like they will meet face to face in a courtroom in a few months.
Qatar Airways said peeling paint on the fuselage, exposing a metal protective layer, poses a safety hazard to the aircraft. Although Airbus admits that chipping is a problem, it has repeatedly stated that it does not affect safety, a position echoed by European regulator EASA. Aviation officials say the issue is only cosmetic, but Qatar and its regulator strongly disagree.
Qatar Airways took the dispute to court and refused to deliver new aircraft, causing Airbus to cancel orders in response carrier to other types of aircraft, including the A320neo, with which no problems arose.