NEWS: United Kingdom
British court delays cancellation of Airbus aircraft to Qatar Airways.

Judge tells air­craft mak­er to sus­pend any prac­ti­cal effect of a deci­sion to revoke a $6 bil­lion jet order from the Gulf carrier.

A British judge has ordered air­craft man­u­fac­tur­er Air­bus to delay for sev­er­al weeks any prac­ti­cal effect of a deci­sion to revoke a $6 bil­lion jet order from Qatar Air­ways, as two of avi­a­tion’s most pow­er­ful play­ers wage an esca­lat­ing legal battle.

The deci­sion effec­tive­ly pre­vents the man­u­fac­tur­er from award­ing valu­able ear­ly deliv­ery slots for the in-demand A321neo air­craft to oth­er air­lines, pend­ing a hear­ing in ear­ly April at which Qatar Air­ways plans to seek an injunc­tion rein­stat­ing the contract.

The two sides have been bat­tling for months over sur­face defects on the A350s, some of which Qatar has ground­ed for safe­ty rea­sons while its air­line sues Air­bus for $600 million.

Air­bus acknowl­edges the qual­i­ty prob­lems but accus­es the air­line of mis­la­bel­ing them as safe­ty issues to get compensation.

The dis­pute deep­ened in Jan­u­ary when Air­bus revoked a deal with Qatar for 50 A321neo air­craft, say­ing its refusal to take dis­put­ed A350s trig­gered a clause bind­ing the two air­craft agreements.

At a hear­ing Fri­day, Qatar Air­ways con­demned the decision.

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

The tech­ni­cal hear­ing pro­vid­ed a pre­view of what appears to be a busy avi­a­tion court bat­tle, with a hear­ing on Qatar’s injunc­tion appli­ca­tion sched­uled for the week of April 4 and a hear­ing date on the main A350 dis­pute set for April 26.

While wait­ing for the first of those hear­ings, a British judge denied a request by Air­bus for more time to pre­pare and ordered the com­pa­ny not to do any­thing in the mean­time that would impede its abil­i­ty to ful­fill the A321neo deal if Qatar wins that part of the case.

Its lawyer Ros­alind Phelps said the can­celed planes have been removed from its indus­tri­al plans and warned of dam­age to its sup­ply chain if its hands are tied too tightly.

The first plane is sched­uled for deliv­ery in Feb­ru­ary 2023, with planes to be deliv­ered at a rate of six per year. Air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ers typ­i­cal­ly order parts up to a year in advance.

Air­bus CEO Guil­laume Fau­ry said Thurs­day that he was forced to can­cel the A321neo order to “exer­cise our rights.”

On Fri­day, he repeat­ed on BFM TV that Air­bus was ready for an ami­ca­ble solu­tion, adding “it takes time”. Sources close to both par­ties say there is no sign of a truce so far.

The Reuters news agency report­ed on Thurs­day that Qatar Air­ways was expect­ed to request a rul­ing to pre­serve the A321neo deal.

Air­bus, mean­while, is prepar­ing coun­ter­claims in the A350 case. It has can­celled two of the 23 A350s still on order for Qatar.

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