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Qatar Airways grounds Airbus A350s as fuselage degrading

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By AP
 In this Jan. 15, 2015 photo, a new Qatar Airways Airbus A350 approaches the gate at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany.
In this Jan. 15, 2015 photo, a new Qatar Airways Airbus A350 approaches the gate at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany.   -   Copyright  Michael Probst/Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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Qatar Airways said it grounded 13 Airbus A350s over what it described as fuselages "degrading at an accelerated rate" in the long-range aircraft, further escalating a months-long 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 aircrafts for some time. It described the issue as a "significant condition," without elaborating further.

"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 Doha-based airline said in its statement.

Qatar Airways has a fleet of 53 Airbus A350s in both its 1000 and 900 series. The airline has another on order with the Toulouse-based airplane manufacturer, making its total order of 76 aircraft — the most of any airline worldwide.

In June, Qatar Airways said it wouldn't take any more A350s unless the problem was fixed.

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 in its fleet. The airline said it "has not experienced the issues reported."

In the US, 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.