A high-profile dispute between Qatar Airways and plane maker Airbus over the airworthiness of Europe’s newest long-haul jet is set to be decided in a UK court next year in what could be a three-month trial.
The two companies have been locked in a $1 billion dispute for 17 months after cracks in paintwork exposed gaps in an anti-lightning mesh beneath, which prompted the airline to ground more than 20 of its A350 planes. Lightning hits commercial jets on average once a year.
The airline said it would not take further deliveries until the issue had been resolved compensation claimed. The plane maker has called it is a maintenance issue and escalated the dispute by revoking a separate contract for smaller A321neo jets.
A judge at London’s High Court on Thursday cleared the way for a trial next year but refused an attempt by the airline to split the case into two parts.
The decision means Airbus is free to attempt to keep delivering A350s to Qatar Airways, triggering payment clauses, or to try to sell rejected planes to airlines such as Air India, which industry sources say could step in as a buyer.
Qatar Airways had asked the court to order Airbus to perform a deeper analysis of the system for protecting the planes against lightning. The request was rejected.
But Judge David Waksman signalled that the trial could start in June on the wider safety issues and criticised the already high level of legal costs in the case.
“I am in absolutely no doubt that this case should be tried as soon as is practically possible,” he said. “The costs for both sides are way over the top, in my judgment.”
The head of the airline said on Thursday that he hoped the case could be settled without a trial.
"Every partnership has disputes and I just hope that this dispute could be resolved outside the courts of law," Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker told reporters.
Airbus acknowledges quality issues but insists the planes are safe and has continued to attempt to force the airline to take delivery of more planes as they are built.
Other airlines continue to fly the A350 without grounding them after European regulators said the paint problem did not affect their airworthiness.