British judge sides with Airbus over cancelled Qatar Airways A321 order

After paint problems were discovered Qatar Airways grounded its entire fleet of 23 A350 aircraft ©AirTeamImages

Qatar Airways has failed in its bid to have a contract for 50 Airbus A321neos reinstated after Airbus revoked it as a consequence of the feud between the two companies over A350 safety issues which has been escalating over the past year.

After paint problems were discovered on A350s that Airbus had delivered to Qatar Airways, under the guidance of Qatar’s Civil Aviation Authority, the Gulf carrier grounded its entire fleet of 23 of the jets and has subsequently refused to take delivery of three new A350s, the last time in April this year which Airbus then, as with the previous two, quietly cancelled the delivery. In a countermeasure, in January this year the European planemaker cancelled Qatar Airways order for 50 of its A321neos. 

Qatar Airways had originally claimed defects in the A350s paintwork, a matter which Airbus has accepted, included small spider cracks, larger cracks around the window frames, exposure of the lightning protection and the underlying composite surface, and damage to the lightning protection layer. However, more recently the Doha-based carrier has upped the ante by stating that the surface flaws on the A350 has raised the risk of fuel tanks igniting. Airbus has always maintained that the paint defects have no adverse effect on the jet’s safety.

Qatar Airways is suing Airbus for US$1 billion in compensation for the grounded jets, while Airbus is countersuing Qatar Airways for US$220 million for the first two A350s the carrier refused to take delivery of. Airbus has also challenged the originally agreed compensation credit of US$206,500 per grounded jet per day as it feels that the carrier was incorrectly labelling the paint surface and anti-lightning mesh problems as safety concerns to collect the compensation credits. Airbus also feels that Qatar Airways has exacerbated the paint problem in order to cancel delivery of the A350s during a time of weak demand for flights.  

In relation to the cancelled A321s, Qatar Airways has claimed it needs the new jets to enable it to open up new routes and there are no alternatives available. However, the judge rejected this claim as it was felt that the carrier could either lease jets or deploy 737 MAX jets that it had provisionally ordered from Boeing. The judge’s ruling in favour of Airbus cancelling the A321 order now means it is free to market the in-demand jets to other carriers. (£1.00 = US$1.26 at time of publication).

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