Qatar Airways, Airbus clash in court over regulators and emails

The Gulf carrier filed a lawsuit in London after the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority decided to ground 28 of 53 A350 jets.

Qatar Airways and Airbus were caught up in yet another row on Friday over their relations with aviation watchdogs and a flood of confidential papers as legal claims relating to grounded aircraft soar up to $2 billion.

The most recent procedural hearing in a contentious contract and safety dispute unravelled in the London High Court, with each party searching for evidence of cozy relationships with regulators, labouring over the minute details of “shared drives” and “search terms.”

After a tense discussion on how to handle more than 100,000 documents that could be crucial to a potential trial next year in which the reputations of significant participants are at stake, Judge David Waksman stated: “A shortcut ought to be taken,” according to Reuters.

The hearing comes as Reuters revealed on Thursday that the disagreement was addressed between French and Qatari leaders in December 2021.

Described as an “exceptionally rare” public conflict in the aviation industry, Qatar Airways sued Airbus in London’s Commercial Court last December over claims that design defects in the Airbus A350 planes could pose safety risks.

The Gulf carrier filed a lawsuit in London after the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) decided to ground 28 of 53 A350 jets.

The case is now scheduled to be heard in London in the second quarter of 2023.

Backed by major European regulators, Airbus acknowledges quality flaws, however, denies the existence of safety risk as, it argues, there is sufficient backup lightning protection.

With its claims backed by its own national regulator, Qatar Airways, which has ordered the A350s to be taken out of service, insists that the magnitude of safety cannot be properly understood until Airbus provides deeper technical analysis.

According to the national carrier, providing the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) with a “Line to Take” document was an attempt by Airbus to sway the agency. This type of document, according to public relations professionals, includes talking points for addressing media inquiries and having high-level talks, Reuters reported.

“Airbus sought to, and appears to have succeeded, in exerting its influence over EASA,” the airline told the court.

A representative for Airbus said that the company had adhered to all pertinent protocols, including its choice to tell EASA of its viewpoint, “which is entirely proper and normal.”

According to an EASA representative, the European agency had “coordinated with Airbus to a limited extent only to ensure technical accuracy” of its own “Line To Take.”

In emails from Airbus that were sent to the airline as part of a discovery process, the sharing of talking points were revealed, as reported by Reuters.

Airbus claimed that Qatar Airways had submitted very little information in the discovery process on its own contacts with the QCAA, despite “casually hint(ing) at collusion” between the plane manufacturer and EASA.

Qatar Airways refutes the accusation from Airbus that it “may have wrongfully colluded or conspired” with its regulator to ground aircraft and strengthen its commercial position.

The grounded planes have resulted in daily penalty claims of $200,000 per aircraft. The groundings are invalid, according to Airbus.

The two sides also argued over two A350s that Qatar allegedly continued to fly after apparently repainting them, Airbus claimed.

As opposed to the aircraft grounded by its regulator, Qatar Airways said that those specific aircraft just required minor paint touch-ups.

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