Airbus has secured a split trial in its legal clash with Qatar Airways over the skin-paint deterioration issue with the airline’s A350 fleet.

The two sides met in court on 16 December for the latest case-management conference.

Airbus had previously warned that the trial – set for June next year – might have to be postponed, as a result of shortcomings in Qatar Airways disclosures.

It stated, in its skeleton argument for the latest hearing, that it had “repeatedly warned” that the case is “not on track”, and added that an adjournment would be “inevitable” if the court did not agree to Airbus’s request to “hive off quantum” – the part addressing quantity of damages.

The judge had ruled, in May this year, in favour of an expedited trial.

“Splitting the proceedings consistently with Airbus’ proposal would allow the matters that justified the order for expedition still to be tried in June 2023,” says the airframer.

“It would also allow other matters…that are less pressing to be tried following the proper process of disclosure and preparation of factual and expert evidence, which is impossible to fit within the current timetable.”

Airbus says, however, that splitting the trial is “necessary” but “not sufficient” for the June trial date to remain in place.

It argues that Qatar Airways’ disclosures remain “deficient” and “little progress” has been made since the previous case-management conference in November.

Qatar A350-1000-c-Qatar Airways

Source: Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways has withdrawn several A350s from service over fuselage skin-paint condition

Qatar Airways, in its own skeleton argument, said its primary position was to oppose the application for a split trial.

“The court should deal with as much of the dispute as possible at the trial [in June], including issues of causation, remedies and loss and damage, and the onus is on [Airbus] to show otherwise,” it states, claiming that Airbus’s application “fails to do so”.

“Neither party contended for a split trial when the court directed a speedy trial [in May],” it says. “This was, no doubt, because it was not thought to be a sensible proposal.”

Qatar Airways says that there has not been a change of circumstances, and Airbus’s seeking a split rests on an “overstatement” of the difficulties of complying with upcoming procedural deadlines.

But the airline states that, should the court order a split trial, it would “not disagree in principle” with the issues that Airbus proposes to shift to the second trial – although it adds that there are some “important caveats” required to clarify which issues should remain.

These include determining the legal basis for calculating any losses suffered as part of Airbus’s counterclaim in the A350 proceedings, even if the quantification is deferred.

Airbus says that it has been “successful” in its bid for a split trial, with the judge ordering that the scope of the June trial to be “narrowed significantly” to address “only the core matters”.

“We very much welcome the outcome of [the] hearing,” it says, adding that the court has “held Qatar Airways accountable” for “slow and limited disclosure” during the proceedings.

Airbus had originally sought to avoid a trial split, which had been favoured by the airline.

Qatar Airways insists that the split is not an unusual measure, given the range of issues involved, and that it supports the decision to focus on key technical matters at the summer 2023 trial.

It also points out that the judge did not make any finding upholding complaints by Airbus over the airline’s information disclosure, but made “practical orders” for the provision of further information by both sides, including Airbus product technical information to the carrier.

“These orders are welcomed by Qatar Airways in order to promote the progress of the case towards a trial which will rightly decide the key issues about the quality of Airbus’s aircraft,” it adds.