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.