UK court orders Airbus to halt the cancellation of Qatar Airways’ A321neo

A UK judge ordered planemaker Airbus to delay any practical impact of a decision to revoke a USD 6 billion jet order from Qatar Airways for several weeks, as two of aviation’s most powerful players wage an escalating court battle.

The move effectively prevents the planemaker from allocating valuable early delivery slots for the in-demand A321neo plane to other airlines, pending an early April hearing at which Qatar Airways plans to seek an injunction reinstating the contract.

The two sides have been clashing for months about surface flaws on A350s, some of which have been grounded by Qatar over safety concerns as its airline sues Airbus for USD 600 million. Airbus acknowledges quality problems but accuses the airline of mislabelling them as a safety issue to secure compensation.

The two sides have been clashing for months about surface flaws on A350s

ALSO READ – Qatar airways sue Airbus for USD 618mn over A350 paint issue

The row widened in January when Airbus revoked a deal with Qatar for 50 A321neos, saying its refusal to take disputed A350s had triggered a clause linking the two plane deals. In a Friday, February 18 hearing, Qatar Airways condemned the decision.

ALSO READ – Airbus responds to Qatar Airways’s A350 dispute by cancelling A321 Order

“They took the risk and knew it would be absolutely incendiary. We have paid USD 330 million for this (A321neo) contract so far and they knew it was a hand grenade being thrown into our bunker,” Qatar Airways lawyer Philip Shepherd said.

The technical hearing gave glimpses of what looks set to be a highly charged court battle in aviation, with a hearing on Qatar’s request for an injunction set for the week of April 4, and a court date on the main A350 dispute set for April 26.

UK court orders Airbus to halt the cancellation of Qatar Airways’ A321neo

Pending the first of those hearings, a UK judge rejected an Airbus request for more time to prepare and ordered the company not to do anything in the meantime that may scupper its ability to fulfil the A321neo deal if Qatar wins that part of the case.

Its lawyer Rosalind Phelps said the cancelled planes had been removed from its industrial plans and warned of damage to its supply chain if its hands were tied too severely.

The first plane is due for delivery in February 2023, with planes due to be delivered at a rate of six a year. Planemakers usually order parts up to a year ahead.

Airbus Chief Executive Guillaume Faury said on Thursday, February 17 it had been forced to cancel the A321neo order to “exercise our rights”. On Friday, February 18 he reiterated on BFM TV that Airbus was ready for an amicable solution, adding “it takes time”. Sources close to both sides say there are no signs so far of any truce.

Airbus says that they had been forced to cancel the A321neo order to “exercise our rights”.

ALSO READ – Airbus cancels more A350 orders of Qatar Airways

Airbus is meanwhile preparing counter-claims in the A350 case. It has cancelled two out of 23 A350s still on order for Qatar but has agreed not to look for alternative buyers for now.

In January 2021, a Qatar Airways A350-900, registered as A7-ALL, was ferried to Ireland to be repainted in a special livery to celebrate the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which will be held in Qatar in October 2022. However, irregularities were found on the aircraft surface after it was stripped of its original paint.

In August 2021, the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) grounded 13 of Qatar Airways Airbus A350 aircraft over similar issues. Currently, the number of parked jets stands at 24, data shows.

Qatar Airways released video footage showing defects in questions and claiming they weren’t superficial

While Airbus largely refrains from commenting on the dispute in public, the manufacturer has previously accused its customer of misrepresenting the problem as a safety issue. Some versions in the media indicate that the airline might have sought the A350 groundings due to its interest to keep the planes idle given the COVID-19 impact on passenger demand. However, the latter claim is not confirmed.

In January 2022, Qatar Airways released video footage showing the defects in questions and claiming they were not superficial. “[…] one of the defects causes the aircraft’s lightning protection system to be exposed and damaged, another defect leaves the underlying composite structure exposed to moisture and ultraviolet light, and other defects include cracking in the composite and damage around a high percentage of rivets on the aircraft fuselage,” the airline wrote in a statement accompanying the video.

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