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

Doha, June 22 (Reuters) – Two high-tech Airbus A350 jets are sitting idle in a floodlight hangar in the Gulf, shutting down windows and engines, following an international legal dispute between European industrialist Airbus. (AIR.PA) And the national carrier of Qatar.

Seen from a distance, the planes are crowded in the bustling Doha center like other long-distance jetliners. But a rare on-site visit by Reuters journalists appeared to be evidence of damage to the surface of the wings, tail and crust.

According to analysts, the two planes, valued at about $ 300 million, and 23 landing A350s at the center of the $ 1 billion London court battle, Airbus vehemently denies that the damage represents a potential security risk.

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The planes were grounded by a Qatari controller after the paint exposed corrosion to a metal sub-layer that provided molten protection from lightning strikes.

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

Reuters journalists were given rare direct access after requesting a visit to an aerospace industry meeting in the Qatari capital Doha this week.

The intermittent surface imperfections of the A350s seen by Reuters include blisters and cracks in the roof or crown of jets or long stretches of missing paint.

In some areas, including the curved wings, the protective lightning rod that sits between the crust and the paint appeared to appear to have been eroded.

In other areas it seemed to disappear, and parts of the mixed overlay emerged.

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Qatar Airways’ maroon Arabian oryx logo revealed cracks in the tail of one of the A350 aircraft and a layer of missing paint beneath it.

Reuters saw paint lost from the fastener heads on its overlay, such as roasted or deformed carbon fibers and small areas called ‘rivet rash’ or key wing areas.

Airbus and Qatar Airways did not immediately comment on Reuters’ findings.

Shares of Airbus fell 3% on Wednesday morning.

Erosion

Airbus acknowledges the quality defects of the A350s, but denies that they pose any safety risk due to the number and durability of the backup systems built into the design.

Qatar Airways has argued that this will not be known until further investigation, and refuses to take many more flights.

Airbus argued that one aspect of the carbon-composite technology used to build all modern long-range jets was some paint corrosion – a trade-off needed for weight storage.

It states that cracks are caused by paint, a lightning-resistant material called ECF, and a composite structure. The tail does not have an ECF membrane at all, prompting debate as to whether damage is caused by the same problem.

Qatar Airways questioned Airbus’ interpretation, saying in a UK court that its similar Boeing 787s did not have the same problems.

Amid hundreds of pages of conflicting technical court cases filed by both sides, Reuters was unable to independently verify the cause of the damage.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker and Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury had the opportunity to attend a three-day industry conference in Qatar this week.

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Asked if the relationship had improved after the event, Al Baker, who consisted of two people sitting next to each other during dinner, suggested the two sides stay away.

“Personally I’m friends with everyone, but when a problem comes up in my company, it’s a different story. If things are resolved, we will not wait any longer for an inquiry next year,” he said. Press conference.

Fourie said he had been in discussions with the airline this week and was making “progress in the sense that we are communicating”.

After the Doha meeting, one of the senior executives of the aviation industry expressed concern that the controversy could have a toxic effect on contractual relations across the industry.

“It’s better to deal with friends than to deal with the courts,” Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, told reporters.

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Editing by Mark Potter and Louise Heavens Editing by Alexander Cornwell and Tim Hepper

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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