Qatar Airways grounds 13 Airbus A350s as fuselage degrading

Qatar Airways says it has grounded 13 Airbus A350s over degradation of the plane’s fuselage

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Qatar Airways said Thursday it grounded 13 Airbus A350s over what it described as fuselages “degrading at an accelerated rate” in the long-range aircraft, further escalating a monthslong dispute with the European airplane maker over the issue.

While Airbus declined to specifically discuss the announcement, Qatar Airways' decision to ground the aircraft raised questions about the A350s' carbon composite fuselage, designed to make the twin-aisle aircraft lighter and cheaper to operate by burning less jet fuel. Qatar Airways also is one of the world's top operators of the aircraft.

In its statement, Qatar Airways said it had been monitoring the degradation beneath the paint on the fuselage of the aircraft for some time. It described the issue as a “significant condition,” without elaborating.

“Following the explicit written instruction of its regulator, 13 aircraft have now been grounded, effectively removing them from service until such time as the root cause can be established and a satisfactory solution made available to permanently correct the underlying condition,” the airline said in its statement.

Airbus declined to specifically discuss Qatar Airways' grounding.

“As a leading aircraft manufacturer we are always in talks / working with our customers,” a statement said. "Those talks we keep confidential. We have no further comment on our customer’s operations.“

Currently, Singapore Airlines is the world's top operator of the A350, with 56 now in its fleet. The airline said it “has not experienced the issues reported.” In America, Delta Air Lines has 15 in its fleet. The Atlanta-based carrier did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The A350 has a list price as much as $366.5 million, though buyers often get discounts in bulk deals.

Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar al-Baker, is known for his hard-changing, confrontational approach in negotiating with manufacturers and others.

The airline will be the crucial carrier for fans attending the upcoming FIFA 2022 World Cup in this Arabian Peninsula country.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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