There’s good news for fans of the Qatar Airways Qsuite Business Class product, a much sought-after experience when booking or redeeming points on the Oneworld carrier’s extensive network, with news earlier this month of a settlement between the Doha-based airline and aircraft manufacturer Airbus.
The “amicable” resolution between the two sides over paint defects on Qatar’s Airbus A350 family aircraft finally means that more than two years after the first such jet was withdrawn from service over the issue, the planes can return to the skies in the months ahead.
Qatar’s outstanding Airbus A350 order totalling 23 further aircraft, which Airbus cancelled in September 2022 as a result the dispute, will also be reinstated, with these new aircraft boasting the Qsuite fresh from the factory.
Five of those brand new Qsuite-equipped A350-1000s are ‘ready to go’ in France, and they could be delivered in the coming weeks, for a quick boost to capacity, something the airline has been struggling with as a result of the groundings.
What was the problem?
Qatar Airways Airbus A350s have been suffering from paint cracking, exposing the copper mesh layer underneath that protects the aircraft if it is struck by lightning.
As of February 2023, a total of 30 Qatar Airways Airbus A350s have been taken out of service.
Other A350 operators including Etihad, Delta and Lufthansa have also suffered from paint issues on their aircraft, though all agreed with the Airbus assessment that no safety issue existed, and they continued to operate them.
In August 2021, Singapore Airlines said it had not experienced paint degradation issues on its 55-strong Airbus A350 fleet.
Qatar Airways has been forced to reactivate ageing Airbus A330s and lease in former Cathay Pacific and Virgin Australia Boeing 777-300ERs during the dispute, to prop up its capacity, giving it an even bigger mishmash of cabin products.
A surprise resolution
The whole dispute was already being heard in the London High Court, with the case set to extend throughout 2023, but earlier this month the two sides suddenly came to an agreement.
Airbus has been using a new copper foil on A350s delivered since late 2022, which apparently fixes the peeling paint issue, but it’s unclear whether Qatar’s grounded aircraft will now be replaced with this material, or some other form of repair is intended.
Airbus has stated that its new copper foil “is not connected to the Qatar litigation”, and that it first made the decision to use it in 2019, to save weight.
Happily, the new material will “boost the durability of the paint system, even though it wasn’t developed for this”, the manufacturer said.
More Qsuites will now return
This is good news for passengers, because at our last count 30 Qatar Airways Airbus A350s are parked due to the paint cracking issue, one in Toulouse and the remaining 29 in Doha.
This comprises 7 Airbus A350-1000s, all of which have the Qsuite, and 23 Airbus A350-900s, 5 of which have the Qsuite.
Once all these aircraft are back in service, a happy outcome but with no announced timeline at this stage, the carrier will therefore have 12 more Qsuite-equipped aircraft in its operating fleet, a 20% increase compared to today.
Here’s how the stored fleet of Qatar Airways Airbus A350s currently looks, including which Business Class seat type is fitted to each aircraft.
Qatar Airways stored Airbus A350s
|Aircraft||Business Class Seats|
|Reg.||Type||Collins Super Diamond||Qsuite|
Only 16 of Qatar Airways’ active Airbus A350s (11 -1000s and five -900s) have the Qsuite installed, with 45 of the airline’s Boeing 777-300ERs making up the balance of the active Qsuite-equipped fleet.Fun fact: Over 500 Qsuite seats are installed on Qatar’s stored A350 aircraft.
How long the reintroduction of these aircraft could take is a different matter. In many cases, these jets have been stored for over a year, extending the reactivation process under Airbus guidelines due to additional maintenance tasks following extended storage periods (i.e. getting them flying is not just about fixing the paint!).
New A350 deliveries will have the Qsuite
One of the other bits of good news regarding this settlement is that Qatar’s outstanding order for Airbus A350s, which Airbus had cancelled during the dispute, has now been reinstated.
Airbus has five Airbus A350-1000s already built for Qatar Airways, jets that were never delivered after the carrier stopped accepting new aircraft from the manufacturer in late 2020 (A350-1000 A7-ANS was the last delivery, in December 2020).
These brand new undelivered aircraft have seen some renewed activity in the last few weeks, suggesting they could be close to delivery, now the impasse between the two sides is over.
- A7-ANT: Flew back to Toulouse from storage in mid-January 2023 and completed a taxi check and rejected takeoff test last week, on 9th February 2023
- A7-AOA: Completed an engine run and taxi check in Toulouse on 1st February 2023
- A7-AOB: Completed a test flight on 25th January 2023, its first in three months
- A7-AOC: Flew back to Toulouse from storage in mid-January 2023
- A7-AOD: Completed a test flight on 11th January 2023, its first in three months
These five aircraft may be the easiest way for Qatar Airways to start addressing its immediate capacity issues, given that its older stored A350s still require some remedial work, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see these brand new ones delivered in the coming weeks.
All these planes have the Qsuite in Business Class.
If the delivery of these five A350-1000s is added to the reactivated Qsuite-equipped stored aircraft in Qatar’s fleet, it would mean an overall 28% increase for the product across the fleet.
The Qsuite vs. Super Diamond
While none of Qatar’s wide-body Business Class products are bad, the Qsuite certainly has the edge, with its high walls and closing privacy doors, combined with Qatar’s great service, food and beverages.
It certainly ranks as one of our favourite Business Class products on the market, and is well ahead of SIA’s offering in this cabin in many respects.
We’ve travelled in the Qsuite a few times, but reviewed the product on a Frankfurt – Doha flight back in September 2018, soon after it was introduced.
If you’re booked on a Qatar Airways A350-900 that doesn’t have the Qsuite, it’s the Collins Super Diamond product you’ll get instead.
Though there’s nothing particularly wrong with these older seats, there’s nothing all that special about them either these days, and privacy in particular is a bit lacking.
Furthermore, redeeming Qatar Airways Business Class from Singapore to Europe costs from as little as 70,000 Avios or Asia Miles, a far cry from the 103,500 KrisFlyer miles SIA now charges for Saver redemptions to the continent.
Could Singapore become an all-Qsuite route again?
For over two years Qatar Airways committed aircraft with its fantastic Qsuite on the Singapore – Doha route, with the exception of occasional operational substitutions, meaning most of our readers could practically guarantee the sought after product for at least part of their journey when flying with the airline.
Qatar even supplemented its use of the Qsuite on three daily Singapore flights from June 2019 with the opening of an exceptional new Premium Lounge at Changi in January 2020, offering a high-end experience for those departing in Business Class on the ground as well as in the air, with pre-flight treatment more akin to First Class than Business.
However, the Qsuite has been ‘going missing’ on Singapore – Doha flights, with a return to the older generation product fitted to the majority of the airline’s Airbus A350-900s on many flights since August 2021.
For example, during the first week of March 2023, Qatar Airways is operating 21 departures from Singapore (three per day), 11 of which (52%) currently have the Qsuite loaded.
We say currently because Qatar Airways is renowned for its long-term, medium-term, short-term and very-short-term aircraft swaps, a strategy that clearly gives the carrier great operational flexibility, but occasionally trashes the hopes and dreams of those whose Qsuite-equipped flights suddenly get downgraded to older seats, even the day before travel.
On the flip side of course, the Qsuite can suddenly appear on a booking when you never expected it, which is obviously great, but the overall situation is far from ideal for the majority of our readers, who simply want to know they’ve got this product from the outset, with the confidence that it won’t change.
Believe it or not, Qatar was achieving that pre-COVID on the Singapore route.
Remarkably few flights were substituted with non-Qsuite cabins, effectively guaranteeing it on the route from June 2019 for over two years, until the bulk of the A350 groundings happened.
The same ‘Qsuite guarantee’ could happen again, once these repaired and brand new A350s are flying with the carrier, since Qatar was clearly prioritising the Singapore route to showcase its latest products.
We believe this was no coincidence on the home turf of a tough competitor!
An 18-month legal battle between Qatar Airways and Airbus is finally over, meaning 30 of the carrier’s A350s, including 12 with the Qsuite, can progressively return to service following “a repair project”.
The Qsuite is definitely Qatar Airways’ best Business Class seat, and is highly sought-after by our readers redeeming their Avios or Asia Miles for the closed-door Business Class experience on flights to and from Europe, and even further afield in some cases.
Once the 12 stored Qsuite-equipped A350s are back in the air, and at least five ‘ready to go’ jets are delivered fresh from the factory, let’s hope Qatar Airways can bring back the ‘Qsuite guarantee’ on its Singapore flights again.
We’ve missed it.
(Cover Photo: Qatar Airways)