Regulators in focus as Airbus and Qatar Airways return to court

LONDON, Nov 11 (Reuters) – Airbus (AIR.PA) and Qatar Airways will resume a legal battle in London on Friday that will put their dealings with regulators in the spotlight in a dispute over the safety of A350 planes on the ground.

The Gulf carrier is suing Airbus for damage to the A350’s painted surface and underlying lightning protection system. The Qatar Civil Aviation Authority grounded at least 29 of the planes for safety reasons.

Backed by European regulators, the world’s biggest planemaker acknowledges quality flaws in part of the A350 fleet, but says its first long-haul plane is safe.

Experts say this is the first time such a major international aviation contract and security dispute, involving claims now approaching $2 billion, has come before a public court.

Friday’s hearing is procedural, but people familiar with the case say they may include arguments about each side’s interactions with regulators.

The extent of these high-level contacts could affect how far each side must go in seeking internal emails in preparation for a possible trial in mid-2023.

The hearing comes after Reuters reported on Thursday that Qatari leaders discussed the dispute with President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to Doha last December.

Airbus told the court it would seek to show that Qatar Airways was “colluding” with the QCAA to ground planes unnecessarily in order to obtain compensation, a charge the airline denies.

In a publicly available witness statement submitted to the court at a hearing in October, Qatar Airways cited what it called the “special closeness” of ties between Airbus and its own regulator, the Security Agency. European Union Air Force (EASA).

Claiming that Airbus was trying to get support from EASA, he produced an internal Airbus email summarizing a call between Airbus Technical Director Sabine Klauke and EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky in July. 2021.

“I just had Patrick Ky on the phone…Patrick was fully committed to calling his QCAA counterpart and working with him on how they would help them justify putting the plane back in the air,” Klauke said. to his colleagues in a previously unreported email. .

An EASA spokesperson declined to discuss specific emails, but said the agency was having “several interactions” with the QCAA “as is normal”. The purpose was solely to explain EASA’s position and offer technical support to the QCAA, the spokesperson said.

The QCAA did not respond to a request for comment. France-based Airbus declined to comment ahead of Friday’s hearing.

The hearing comes after Reuters reported on Thursday that Qatari leaders discussed the dispute with President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to Doha last December.

The Qatari government’s communications office declined to comment.

Publicly available case documentation also revealed US involvement for the first time, after the aircraft manufacturer notified the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Welcome, they are already well briefed by EASA and have no particular airworthiness or safety concerns,” an Airbus engineering manager said in an internal email last December.

An FAA spokesperson said: “We are aware of the issue and are in contact with EASA, which certifies Airbus aircraft.”

The hearing in a division of the High Court was due to start at 10.30 GMT.

Reporting by Tim Hepher. Additional reporting by Andy Mills in Doha and David Shepardson in Washington, D.C. Editing by Gerry Doyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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