Uh Oh: Qatar Airways Grounds 13 Airbus A350s

Uh Oh: Qatar Airways Grounds 13 Airbus A350s

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Qatar Airways will be grounding around one-quarter of its Airbus A350 fleet, and it looks like this could last for quite a while.

Qatar Airways’ A350 fuselage issues

For several months now, Qatar Airways has been having issues with its A350 fleet. The airline has been noticing a “significant condition” across the A350 fleet, whereby “the fuselage surface below the paint is degrading at an accelerated rate.” A couple of months back, Qatar Airways revealed that it would stop taking delivery of A350s from Airbus until the underlying problem was identified and fixed. As I’ll explain below, the airline is now taking this a step further.

As Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker describes this issue:

“With this latest development, we sincerely expect that Airbus treats this matter with the proper attention that it requires. Qatar Airways will not accept anything other than aircraft that continue to offer its customers the highest possible standard of safety and the best travel experience that they deserve. Qatar Airways expects Airbus to have established the root cause and permanently corrected the underlying condition to the satisfaction of Qatar Airways and our regulator before we take delivery of any further A350 aircraft.”

Qatar Airways was the launch customer for both the Airbus A350-900 and A350-1000, and has the second largest A350 fleet in the world (Singapore Airlines is the largest operator of the A350). The airline currently has 53 of these planes in its fleet, and has a further 23 on order.

Qatar Airways was the launch customer of the A350

Qatar Airways now grounding some A350s

While Qatar Airways had already stopped accepting delivery of new A350s, the airline is now taking its response to the next level. Qatar Airways will be grounding 13 of its Airbus A350 aircraft due to these issues.

It’s stated that this development follows “explicit written instructions” of Qatar Airways’ regulator requiring that these planes be grounded to ensure the continued safety of all passengers.

These planes have been grounded effective immediately, and will only return to service once the root cause has been established, and a satisfactory solution has been made available to permanently correct the underlying issue. This doesn’t sound to me like an overnight fix, so I would expect these planes to be parked for a while.

Qatar Airways A350-1000 Qsuites business class cabin

Throughout the pandemic, Qatar Airways has used its fuel efficient A350 fleet as the backbone of long haul operations, flying nearly all of these planes around the globe. As you might expect, grounding about one-quarter of these planes will have major operational impacts.

Qatar Airways is returning its A330 fleet into service with immediate effect (the fleet was in the process of being phased out), to offset some of the impact of the grounded A350 fleet. The airline is also currently looking for other solutions (could we maybe see the A380 fleet reactivated soon?!).

A330s likely won’t be operating any ultra long haul flights. So chances are that Qatar Airways will prioritize ultra long haul routes for A350s and 777s, and then you’re more likely to see A330s operating regional routes. So if you are flying Qatar Airways in the coming days and weeks, keep an eye on possible aircraft swaps.

Qatar Airways is reactivating more A330s

Bottom line

Qatar Airways has been experiencing issues with the fuselage surface below the paint degrading at an accelerated rate on A350 aircraft. The airline initially started by not accepting any new deliveries from Airbus anymore, and the airline is now grounding about one-quarter of its A350 fleet, allegedly at the instruction of regulators.

I’m curious to see how this plays out — it doesn’t sound like this problem will be solved anytime soon. Interestingly Qatar Airways seems to be the only airline so far reporting these issues.

What do you make of Qatar Airways grounding part of its A350 fleet?

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  1. Amy

    We're booked Qatar DFW-DOH in December, but could switch to PHL to DOH. Any recommendations?

  2. Michael Noel

    I think they first found the issue when stripping paint for a new paint theme. There is a newer LAZER based method some are using now. Hmmm...

  3. HSV-Flyer

    Someone is using Walmart paint!

  4. Mohamed Nur Ahmed

    Due to hot weather in that area and a lot of the newer cars some parts of melted it can be the cause since same planes ✈️ didn’t happen other parts of the world.

  5. Susan

    Maybe Qatar’s intensely hot climate is to blame and not Airbus?

    1. Azamaraal

      Considering their fleet of 787, A330, A380 it would not be en environmental problem or all their planes would be similarly affected. Granted the only other carbon fibre plane is the 787.

      UV at altitude is much stronger that at surface. UV is partially blocked in the Gulf because of the 'sand' in the air. Very difficult to get a sunburn in the desert compared to clean air northern climes.

  6. Warren

    Is there any third party verification of this issue? If not. assume a negotiating stance. If so, area of concern. Still, why only this airline? I recall an incident of Hawaiian Air corrosion of fuselage some years ago, but that was in a salt air environment. I assume not the case here.

  7. Tehseen

    It's mostly possible due to climatic conditions , extremely hot weather ,and when an aircraft is parked with no shade ,it structure heats up like an oven ,if humans can get affected by heat ,so does machines , regular washes may help reduce this effect, off course park in shade , till date no aircraft shade or full structure cover has been invented or used . pandemic made aircrafts grounding to Max limit...

  8. Mick

    Sounds like Qatar finding a way to avoid future deliveries

  9. Paul

    Why are no other airlines complaining of the same issue?

  10. Steven

    Chemicals like bleech in water , when washing, are the enemy of titanium.

  11. C2L

    ...fuselage surface below the paint degrading at an accelerated rate...

    That's a pretty nebulous statement. Is this a slippery way to say 'corrosion'?

  12. Jane Harwood

    Just checked; Our JFK/DOH and DOH/JNB flights on Sept 6 & 7, 2021 have been changed to 777 300ER, but still Q-Suites

    1. Jorge Paez

      It's all about the suites!

  13. Apu

    How does one see the surface below the paint?

    1. dander

      Ultrasound eddy currents or some type of x-ray. Not too hard to do

  14. Franko Ku

    Could it be the sand in atmosphere due to many more flights from mideast. Sand from USA west reaches the east in small amounts so could be from worst adjacent countries etc.

  15. John

    The A350 fuselage is made out of carbon fiber polymers, so perhaps this degradation is due to ultraviolet radiation from the sun reacting with the polymers. UV radiation would naturally be more intense in Qatar and other desert environments as compared to Europe, North America or Asia. If this turns out to be the case, they're just going to have to give those Qatar A350s a stronger sunblock!

    1. KK13

      You think we in the polymers and coatings business don't know that, and would use a technology that's 20 years old? We make coatings based on UV-responsive polymers that impart UV-resistant coating even with UV-C!

  16. DenB

    And guess which carrier has epic call queues today. It's the one I'm calling about an imminent departure, natch!

  17. Autumn

    Oh no. I'm flying out in November. Hopefully, they get this straighten out soon. I haven't flown on this airline nor their QSuites and was looking forward to it. I'll be doing a lot of praying it works out come November.

  18. Francois

    My DOH-JHB and CPT-DOH in November 2021 has already switched to the 777-300ER from the A350-900.

  19. Ray

    This is certainly interesting. Why, indeed, are they the only ones to report this problem?

    Nothing from Singapore, Delta, or Cathay?

  20. Eskimo

    So QR is trying to delay delivers while also trying to get compensation from Airbus on some claims that local regulators agree with. Interestingly, and correct me if I'm wrong, doesn't QR and their regulators have the same owner, the Emir?

    While we can all agree the FAA won't be regulating any of this soon, even if it's really serious. Or maybe Boeing's influence is so strong, they will do a witch hunt against Airbus....

    So QR is trying to delay delivers while also trying to get compensation from Airbus on some claims that local regulators agree with. Interestingly, and correct me if I'm wrong, doesn't QR and their regulators have the same owner, the Emir?

    While we can all agree the FAA won't be regulating any of this soon, even if it's really serious. Or maybe Boeing's influence is so strong, they will do a witch hunt against Airbus. No credits left for FAA anymore, no win for them.

    I would still be expecting truths to this if CAAC or EASA says something about it.

  21. VT-CIE

    Isn’t SQ the one with the largest A350 fleet? It reportedly overtook QR back in April.

    1. shoeguy

      Yes, that's in the article.

    2. Ben Schlappig

      @ VT-CIE -- Good catch, thanks! Updated post to reflect that.

    1. Ben Schlappig

      @ Ben -- I could be mistaken, but I believe this mostly impacts A350-900s, since they're partly significantly older.

    2. Autumn

      Thanks, Ben! I hope it's not the 1000s since I'll be flying that in November. *bite-nails"

    3. DavidM

      So Ben, how might this affect utilization of the 787's in the Qatar fleet?

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Amy

We're booked Qatar DFW-DOH in December, but could switch to PHL to DOH. Any recommendations?

Azamaraal

Considering their fleet of 787, A330, A380 it would not be en environmental problem or all their planes would be similarly affected. Granted the only other carbon fibre plane is the 787. UV at altitude is much stronger that at surface. UV is partially blocked in the Gulf because of the 'sand' in the air. Very difficult to get a sunburn in the desert compared to clean air northern climes.

Michael Noel

I think they first found the issue when stripping paint for a new paint theme. There is a newer LAZER based method some are using now. Hmmm...

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