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Airbus cancels Qatar A321 order over ongoing dispute

written by Isabella Richards | January 21, 2022

Airbus’ A350-1000, shortly after an ATTOL vision-based take-off. (Airbus)

Airbus has cancelled Qatar Airways’ order of 50 small A321 jets as the dispute over the planemaker’s widebody aircraft continues.

Airbus made the decision during a scheduling session over the ongoing A350 dispute on Thursday at a British High court, according to Reuters, which was for a procedural hearing over Qatar’s bid for over $600 million in compensation for the widebody defects.

It comes as Airbus claims Qatar was deceitful in its groundings of over 20 A350 jets, accusing the airline of mislabelling the issue as a safety concern to bag compensation.

Since June last year, Qatar has condemned the planemaker over paint defects that have also underpinned further problems with the aircraft’s lightning protection mesh.

It led to Qatar launching a legal proceeding against Airbus over it in December when it failed to reach a solution after the planemaker was firm in defending that there were no airworthiness flaws.

The initial hearing is set for April this year, and the judge has ordered Airbus to provide its defense by 25 February.

An Airbus spokesperson stated, “We confirm we did terminate the contract for 50 A321s with Qatar Airways in accordance with our rights,” according to Bloomberg.

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The issue with the A321neo jets was not a part of the dispute until 17 January, Qatar said in public documents.

The flag carrier secured 50 of the aircraft set for delivery between February 2023 and April 2031, with six to arrive next year, the documents detailed.

Dropping the firm contract added to the slew of snowballing quarrels between the two companies, and Qatar believes Airbus isn’t entitled to slam the decision during the legal proceedings.

According to Bloomberg, Airbus was originally paying the Doha-based carrier $175,000 a day to cover the groundings of the few jets, but soon after, Qatar regulators grounded over 20 despite the European Union Aviation Safety Agency not finding any airworthiness issues.

Other airlines across the globe reported similar issues, found by Reuters on a private messaging board, such as Finnair, Cathay Pacific and more, but most have been reports of superficial flaws.

The groundings forced Qatar to reluctantly return its widebody A380 jets to serve long-haul routes, despite previously touting it would never fly the aircraft again.

Now, the carrier is seeking more than $700 million in compensation for the costs involved in being unable to fly the A350s in its fleet.

Airbus claimed Qatar had “no reasonable or rational basis”, according to hearing documents from the planemaker.

Airbus said Qatar “sought to engineer or has acquiesced” the groundings in light of economic impacts from the pandemic.

The cancelled contract and groundings of its A350s will add further to the struggle of the Gulf carrier as it is the airline serving the soccer World Cup in November.

Industry leaders have said this is a one-of-a-kind lawsuit, coupling both safety and contractual issues in the same open court setting.

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