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Wed, Dec 21, 2022

U.K. Court Orders Airbus Qatar Trial Split

Double the Litigation

A U.K. court has ordered an upcoming trial to be split into two parts on account of the sheer weight of disagreements between litigants Airbus and Qatar Airways. The parties are embroiled in a protracted dispute over alleged breaches of contracts stemming from the subjective airworthiness of A350 jets purchased by the Middle Eastern air-carrier.

Per a ruling handed down by Judge David Waksman, the first part of the June 2023 Qatar Airways vs. Airbus trial will focus on liability, with arguments pertaining to the disputants’ combined claims, estimated at $2-billion, to be heard and considered subsequently.

On 16 December 2022, the two sides clashed after the spectacular fashion of multi-billion-dollar companies over access to the allegedly defective aircraft—with Airbus lawyer David Wolfson arguing the consortium’s experts had been forced to photograph the disputed jets from a distance "under the light of the moon.” Wolfson further accused the airline of engaging in a game of "switcheroo" for purpose of preventing inspections of its in-service aircraft.

Qatar Airways—which is currently about the complex business of hosting the World Cup soccer tournament—vehemently denied Wolfson’s allegations that it had failed to cooperate with inspections of its aircraft. Attorneys representing the airline asserted that such access to both grounded and in-service jets as was possible under short notice had been granted to Airbus investigators. Attorney Geraint Webb set forth on the air-carrier’s behalf: “We do have to bear in mind that this is an operating airline.”

The exchange, reportedly cut short by an exasperated Judge Waksman, evinces the precipitous breakdown in relations between Airbus and Qatar Airways—the latter being the A350’s launch and largest customer.

The air-framer and the airline have each accused the other of colluding with its respective regulatory body. Neither EASA nor the Qatari Civil Aviation Authority has addressed the accusations.

For months, Qatar Airways and Airbus have been warring in the British courts over multi-hundred-million-dollar losses incurred by the airline following the grounding of 21 of its 53 A350 long-range, wide-body airliners. Qatar’s civil aviation authority deemed the airplanes un-airworthy following the discovery of substantial deterioration of their exterior paint and protective coatings. Airbus conceded the deterioration was premature, but maintained it presented no risk to safety of flight. Airbus’s assertions of safety were echoed by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)—an Airbus subsidiary.

Qatar Airways subsequently prevailed upon the court to award it more than $600-million in damages, while Airbus, uncharacteristically reactive and unyielding, responded initially to the carrier’s invocation of litigious recourse by rescinding an unrelated Qatar Airways order for fifty A321neos—thereby portraying the conflict as a contractual matter rather than one of aircraft safety.

On Friday, 09 September 2022, Airbus stepped-up its retributory campaign by summarily canceling a Qatar Airways order for 19 additional A350 aircraft. The European consortium ascribed its action to a belief that the air carrier—which refused to take delivery of two A350s in February—no longer wished to honor its contracts with Airbus. Contrariwise, Qatar Airways claimed Airbus had canceled the order outright—prior to the carrier having occasion to refuse the aircraft.

Contradictory claims notwithstanding, Qatar Airways had previously and publicly asserted that it would refuse future deliveries of Airbus aircraft until the airframer provided a full root-cause analysis of the corrosion by which nearly half of the airline’s A350s are allegedly afflicted.

In keeping with the maxim that sport is the measure of man, Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup occasions a wholly improbable yet intriguing avenue to resolving the Airbus-Qatar Airways feud. In recognition of the French team’s advancement to the tournament’s final round, France’s socialist president Emmanuel Macron visited the Qatari capital city of Doha, where he was greeted by Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker. Hopes have arisen that the two men will engage in informal talks over the coming days, thereby punctuating the aerospace industry’s highest profile dispute with a measure of amiability.

FMI: www.qatarairways.com

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