Airbus, Qatar Airways Headed for “Speedy Trial”
Airbus Airlines

Airbus, Qatar Airways Headed for “Speedy Trial”

DALLAS – A British judge today issued orders for a speedy trial in the row between Airbus and Qatar Airways (QR).

The airline and the manufacturer have been fighting in a public and bitter dispute over defective paintwork that the airline says endangers its planes by exposing the copper lightning protection mesh.

The two parties have been fighting in the British High Court over the peeling paint on 23 QR A350s, which were grounded by regulators in Qatar.

In a rare public comment on the case, QR’s CEO, Akbar Al Baker, told reporters on the sidelines of a news conference, “Every partnership has disputes, and I just hope that this dispute can be resolved outside the courts of law.”

However, in light of today’s ruling, it looks like Al Baker’s wish will go unfulfilled.

QATAR AIRWAYS A7-AMK AIRBUS A350-941. Photo: Noah Pitkin/Airways

A Trial in a Year’s Time

“I am in absolutely no doubt that this case should be tried as soon as is practically possible,” Judge David Waksman said. “The costs for both sides are way over the top in my judgment. There is far too much time that is being spent here.”

The British High Court ruled against the airline, which had asked the court to split the case into two parts: 1) to order Airbus to conduct a deep analysis into the issues causing the paint to peel, and 2) to prevent Airbus from delivering more A350s to the airline.

If planes were delivered, it would trigger payment clauses. If QR rejected those delivered planes, Airbus would be free to offer them to other airlines.

Reuters reports that the judge gave an indicative window from June of next year for the trial to begin.

Qatar is now seeking around US$1bn in compensation from Airbus. The plane maker has acknowledged the problem but says that it has fully reviewed and solved the quality issues and that safety is not compromised. The European Aviation Safety Agency has said the planes are airworthy.

Other airlines have continued to fly the A350 without problem. Some have seen a similar problem in paint deterioration, but none have grounded the type due to the issue.

Qatar has 21 A350s on order, some of which are ready to be delivered.  The airline already has 34 A350-900s and 19 A350-1000s in its fleet, although some are grounded.

Qatar Airways A7-ALZ Airbus A350-900 (OneWorld Livery). Photo: Fabrizio Spicuglia/Airways

A Timeline

  • In November 2020, Qatar flew an A350 to Shannon, Ireland, to be repainted in a World Cup livery. The plane was subsequently flown to Toulouse, France where reports of “irregularities on the surface coating” emerged.
  • In February 2021, Lufthansa flew three of its oldest A350s to Airbus for repainting. This raised industry eyebrows as Lufthansa has the capability to repaint in-house. This work was conducted under warranty by Airbus.
  • In late May 2021, QR threatened to halt deliveries of A350s due to a manufacturing issue. In June, it confirmed that it was indeed no longer accepting the aircraft and that the problem was due to the condition of the surface under the paintwork. In August, the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority grounded 13 of the type. Shortly thereafter, the EASA said that it was not “intending to take any action as the State of Design for this issue at this time. No other airlines have reported paint and protection damage.”
  • In November, due to a lack of capacity due to the groundings, Qatar “reluctantly” brought back to service around half of its A380 fleet.
  • Late in November 2021, a report by Reuters said that other airlines were reporting similar problems with the surface deterioration. Finnair (F9), Cathay Pacific (CX), Etihad (EY), and Air Caraibes (TX) saw “cosmetic damage” to the craft. None, however, were grounding their planes.
  • In December, with Airbus holding firm to its view of the plane’s safety while Qatar and local regulators said otherwise, the airline revealed that it was seeking independent legal counsel on the issue. In reply, Airbus said, “The attempt by this customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue represents a threat to the international protocols on safety matters.”
  • Four days before Christmas, Qatar filed legal proceedings against Airbus at the Technology and Construction division of the High Court in London. The airline was seeking US$618m in damages, plus US$4 million for each day that one of its A350s was grounded due to the issue.
  • Two weeks later, Airbus cancelled Qatar’s order for 50 A321 neo planes. The manufacturer said it was within its legal rights to do so, citing contract clauses that linked the two agreements.
  • To push its point to the public, on January 21, Qatar released the first video that showed the damage that its A350s had experienced. Ten days later, Qatar teamed up with Boeing to purchase up to 100 planes, 50 777X Freighters and 50 737MAX planes to replace the A321s.
  • In early February, Reuters noted that Airbus had cancelled two of Qatar’s A350 orders. In mid-month, a British judge said that Airbus had to stop “any practical impact” of its cancelling the A321 order and not offer them to other airlines – pending court hearings in April.
  • Late in the month, Airbus asked for US$220m in damages for two A350s saying that Qatar and Qatari regulators “wrongfully colluded or conspired and/or otherwise acted together in bad faith in relation to the groundings.” A month later, the airline disputed the claim saying that it had not violated its contract with Airbus and that the manufacturer had not detailed how it had arrived at that amount.
  • On March 30, court documents cite a safety assessment by the EAS saying that paint deterioration over the fuel tanks could expose the copper mesh and lead to, in a worst-case scenario, a fire.
  • A week later, Airbus canceled a third A350 order. On April 26, a judge said that Airbus was within its rights to cancel the A321neo order and that it could offer the slots to other manufacturers. However, Qatar can challenge this ruling if and when the entire issue comes to full trial.

Featured image: Qatar Airways A7-AME Airbus A350-941. Photo: Alberto cucini/Airways

John Huston is a marketer, writer, and videographer who's always loved planes, clocked 10 whole hours in a Cessna and can spend hours wandering around ATL. Based in Atlanta, GA, United States.

You cannot copy content of this page