Qatar Airways (QR, Doha Hamad Int'l) is considering leasing in additional capacity in 2022 given the ongoing grounding of twenty A350s due to fuselage paint flaking issues.

Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker told Business Traveller during an Aviation Club discourse in London that the airline has already had to reactivate some of its A380-800s and other aircraft slated for return to lessors in order to cope with the crisis.

"Airbus has made a very large dent in our widebody operations. The issue is that it's a serious matter. We don't know if it is not an airworthiness issue. We also don't know if it is an airworthiness issue... We have a problem, and Qatar Airways cannot sit with its arms folded and legs crossed when we have a problem. We need to solve it, and this is exactly why we are out in the market to lease airplanes," he said.

The ch-aviation fleets advanced module shows that Qatar Airways operates thirty-four A350-900s and nineteen A350-1000s. It has a further twenty-three -1000s due from Airbus, although deliveries have been put on hold until the manufacturer addresses the paint issue. In total, the airline operates 171 passenger widebody aircraft - the twenty grounded A350s represent nearly 12% of its total fleet and a similar share by total seat capacity.

It is unclear if the airline would look at dry- or wet-leased capacity if the A350s remain grounded for much longer. Qatar Airways did not respond to ch-aviation's request for comment. The airline does not wet-lease any passenger aircraft, although Air Belgium (KF, Brussels Charleroi) operates one A330-200F on its behalf.

Al Baker added that considering the A350's issues, the airline was much more likely to select Boeing and its B777X freighter for its planned large freighter order.

Airbus recently admitted that the A350s have experienced "early surface wear" and that the issues were reported not just by Qatar Airways but also other carriers, whose aircraft are not exposed to such high temperatures while on the ground. The issues were initially reported to be purely cosmetic, but reports of damage to anti-lightning copper wiring on the fuselage indicated that the problem may be more serious. Airbus maintains the aircraft type is safe despite the issues. No other airline except for Qatar Airways has grounded any of their A350s.

Al Baker suggested that a fix for the A350's paint issues might require type recertification, which would be time-consuming and could ground the aircraft for months. Airbus declined to comment.