Qatar Airways and Airbus announced a “amicable and mutually accepted settlement” to a two-year-old dispute over the A350 aircraft, ahead of a court action scheduled to begin in the High Court in London in the coming months.
The Gulf airline and the European aircraft manufacturer said in a brief joint statement that they would stop their legal claims against each other, but that the terms of the settlement were confidential.
They noted that a repair project was currently under way and that “all sides look forward to getting these aircraft safely back in the air”.
The agreement, which included no admission of guilt from either party, also allows Qatar Airways to resurrect previously abandoned plans to purchase more Airbus planes.
Prior to the disagreement, Qatar was the world’s largest operator of the A350, with 53 of the planes delivered out of a total order of 76 in June 2007.
The airline stated that in late 2020, it noticed that the airframe of one of its A350s was exhibiting early and accelerated surface degradation. It then uncovered similar issues on other planes.
The Gulf airline said that by August 2021, it had been ordered explicitly to ground 13 of the aircraft by its watchdog, the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority. In the months that followed, other aircraft were grounded. It filed a lawsuit against Airbus in the High Court of London in December of that year.
The airline stated that “these flaws are not superficial,” adding that one of them exposes and damages the aircraft’s lightning protection system.
Airbus denied the Qatari allegations and vowed to fiercely defend itself in court. The surface deteriorations were described as “non-structural” and having “no airworthiness impact on the A350 fleet” in December 2021.
Despite this, it stated in its most recent financial results that “the outcome of the proceedings cannot be fully assessed at this stage, but any judgement or decision unfavourable to the company could have a material adverse impact on the company’s financial statements, business and operations, as well as its reputation.”
Airbus devised counter-strategies against Qatar Airlines. It cancelled without notice an order for 50 of its smaller A321 Neo aircraft placed by the airline in January 2022, prompting further legal action.
The A321 order has been resurrected, but the first deliveries are now scheduled for 2026, three years later than previously intended. A additional 23 A350s are scheduled to arrive in Doha.
It’s unclear what the agreement means for other airlines that have reportedly expressed worries about paint and surface problems on the A350.
Yet, it represents a significant shift in the Airbus-Qatar relationship’s trajectory. In December 2021, Qatar Airlines CEO Akbar Al-Baker told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post that Airbus had “destroyed” the carrier’s business partnership. That connection appears to have been repaired.
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