As modern aircraft introduce novel materials into their structures, several factors must be considered on how all the materials interact with each other under all the environmental conditions an aircraft may encounter.
Back in 2021, paint cracking issues were reported on Qatar Airways’ A350, the latest carbon fiber-based wide-body aircraft developed by Airbus. This is something the airline didn’t expect from an aircraft with top-notch technology and just a few years of service. This cracking issues initially caused the grounding of two A350s and, later on, of the whole fleet.
The first aircraft that showed issues was sent back to Toulouse for inspection and repainting, to which Airbus reported “irregularities” on the surface coating. The issue is superficial/cosmetic and only visible when the top coat of paint is stripped. To this, Qatar Airways pointed out that “the defects are not superficial, and one of the defects causes the aircraft’s lightning protection system to be exposed and damaged”. Also potential moisture and ultraviolet exposure to the composite structure and cracking in the composite that could damage a “high percentage of rivets on the aircraft fuselage”. This was the declaration of war between the airline and the aircraft manufacturing company.
Even though EASA and Airbus are certain the paint issues do not put at risk the aircraft, the airline has cancelled the order of A350s and grounded the whole fleet which has led to several legal disputes between the companies.
Up to today, a dispute is still ongoing and, from what is known, Airbus has changed part of the fuselage design, using a different copper foil in the layering, supposedly to solve this problem, although it assures that the old design is also safe.