The drama between Airbus and Qatar Airways over the A350 will head to trial, a UK High Court judge ruled this week. The three-month trial is expected to begin next summer.
The judgement brings some clarity to the dispute, which stems from Qatar Airways alleging that its newly delivered A350s were inoperable due to paint peeling and airframe damage. Airbus acknowledged some damage to the paint but held firm that the damage did not extend to the airframe. Qatar’s civil aviation regulator ordered 21 of the carrier’s A350 to be grounded.
The row escalated earlier this year, when Qatar Airways sought $650 million in damages from Airbus over the issue and lost revenue from what it said were inoperable A350s, landing the dispute in the High Court. Airbus snapped back by cancelling Qatar Aiways’ separate order for 50 A321neos, “in accordance with our rights,” the airframer said then.
Airbus countersued over losses from Qatar Airways’ undelivered A350s. The airline had an additional 20 A350-1000s still on order at the end of April.
The judge denied Qatar Airways’ request to split the trial in two and set a date for a single trial next year. “Airbus is pleased with the court’s decision rejecting all requests for injunctions regarding the A350 as well as a rejection of the proposal made by Qatar Airways to split the trial into two separate parts, which would slow down the process,” an Airbus spokesman said.
“We entered into this process to secure an expedited trial and early disclosure from Airbus that will give us an insight into the true nature of surface degradation affecting the A350s,” Qatar Airways said in a statement. “We will finally be able assess the cause of the damage to our aircraft and the expedited trial will provide a swift resolution of this unprecedented dispute.”
But the judge also allowed Airbus to continue delivering the jets to Qatar Airways, and if the airline refuses, to re-market the A350s that would have gone to Qatar. Several carriers, including Air India, are said to be interested in the aircraft.
“Airbus is likewise pleased that this issue is now behind it and that the matter can now proceed with all due speed to focus on the main topic of the misrepresentation by Qatar Airways of safety and airworthiness of the A350 — which we will continue to defend, as well as the reputation of its operators and the rules governing aviation safety in the face of unjustified claims,” Airbus said.
The judge urged the two sides to consider a settlement. It remains unclear where Qatar Airways could source additional widebody lift, given backlogs and delivery issues at Boeing on the 777 and 787 programs.
“We continue to favor engagement and an amicable solution to resolve the dispute,” Airbus continued. “The continued litigation is not in the interests of either party.”