Trial over paint dispute between Airbus and Qatar Airways to be split

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A bitter legal battle between Airbus and Qatar Airways looks set to continue for most of next year after a judge in London on Friday ruled to split a trial scheduled for next summer into two parts amid protracted disagreements between the parties.

The first part of the trial, set for June, will focus on liability, while a decision on the size of the combined damage claims will be decided upon at a later date.

Friday’s hearing was the latest in what has become an unusually high-profile row between the European aircraft manufacturer and one of its biggest customers over claims that problems with cracking paint rendered A350 wide-body jets bought by the airline unsafe. Qatar’s aviation regulator has grounded at least 29 jets over the past year.

Airbus admits the quality flaws but denies that there are any design issues and insists that the jets are safe, pointing out that Qatar’s regulator is the only one to have grounded the aircraft.

Recent hearings have been dominated by debates over access to correspondence and accusations of close relations between the two companies and their respective aviation regulators.

In written submissions presented on Friday, Airbus claimed that Qatar Airways’ “disclosure remains deficient”. 

“Fundamentally, Airbus has been unable to piece together the story of what was happening at Qatar Airways during the relevant period. It has been prevented from doing so by [the airline’s] failings,” the company said in its submission.

Airbus also questioned what had happened to some $185mn in so-called “purchase incentives” that it had paid to the airline as part of the original contract “for investment in the development of the aeronautical industry in the State of Qatar”.

Qatar Airways in its submission urged Airbus to disclose its communications with other airlines concerning commercial support or settlements relating to the acceptance of repairs for issues similar to the surface degradation of the A350s that the airline is experiencing.

The airline argued that it was “essential” for it and the court to have “clarity as to the extent to which other airlines’ aircraft have experienced the condition, the repair solutions proposed to them” and whether Airbus had offered “commercial deals to encourage those airlines to accept”. 

Airbus, which had applied for the trial to be split, said in a statement that it welcomed the outcome of the hearing. The court had “held Qatar Airways accountable for its slow and limited disclosure throughout these proceedings”.

The hearing had also raised “further serious questions around the relationship between Qatar Airways and the [Qatar Civil Aviation Authority], regarding the decision of the Qatari aviation regulator to ground select A350 aircraft with no explanation offered”, it added.

Qatar Airways did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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