Airbus and Qatar Airways are set to participate in a crucial meeting with civil aviation regulators next month, at a crucial session intended to explore issues relating to the controversial grounding of the carrier’s A350s.

The meeting, scheduled for 11 January in Doha, is likely to be a focal point of the legal clash between Airbus and Qatar Airways which centres on a dispute over skin-paint deterioration and the airworthiness of the airline’s A350 fleet.

It follows remarks, in May, from the judge in the case that a meeting with the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority – which grounded the aircraft affected – was in the interests of both parties.

Airbus invited the Qatari authority and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency to the joint meeting, which Qatar Airways will also attend, according to skeleton arguments disclosed by the carrier for a case-management conference on 16 December.

But Qatar Airways is questioning Airbus’s agenda for the meeting.

It says the airframer has proposed items including “understanding the [Qatari authority’s] concerns” in respect of the grounded A350s which, the carrier claims, “does not appear to be consistent with the purpose of the meeting”.

“The [agenda item] should reflect the need for [Airbus] to explain its technical arguments to [the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority] and have an opportunity to make its representations to the regulator,” the carrier states.

“The purpose of the meeting is not to try to put the onus on the regulator to justify its regulatory decisions to [Airbus]. The [authority] has already set out its concerns in the letters grounding the aircraft.”

Qatar A350-1000 MSN420-c-Airbus

Source: Airbus

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Qatar Airways also refers to another proposed agenda item, “identifying solutions” to resolve the concerns, lift the grounding order and release the aircraft back to operation.

It says that “no concern arises” if Airbus is simply intending to advance technical arguments about why the aircraft are airworthy. But it doubts that the airframer’s intention, and adds that going beyond a presentation of the technical case is “not within the purposes of the meeting”.

“[Qatar Airways] is concerned that [Airbus] will treat the meeting rather like a deposition of the [Qatar Civil Aviation Authority] if the meeting proceeds with [Airbus’s] proposed agenda items,” the carrier argues.

“And because the meeting will be recorded it will seek to deploy that in evidence in the trial. That is wholly beyond the purpose of the meeting. The meeting is not intended to be an evidence-gathering exercise, nor was it envisaged that any recording from the meeting would become evidence in these proceedings.”

Airbus’s own skeleton argument confirms the 11 January meeting, but warns that Qatar Airways will “prevent” the airframer from being able to “properly engage” with the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority if it does not provide relevant documentation before the end of this year.

The airframer has repeatedly expressed frustration with slow disclosure by the Qatari side during the case.

“It is imperative that there is proper disclosure of the documents upon which the [Qatari authority’s] decisions to ground aircraft were based,” says Airbus’s argument.

“That is particularly so in circumstances where Airbus has challenged the basis for and correctness of the [authority’s] decisions.”

Qatar A350-1000-c-Qatar Airways

Source: Qatar Airways

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Airbus insists disclosure of information provided to the authority regarding the condition, airworthiness, and grounding of the A350s, by the due date of 30 September, should have been “straightforward” but claims this has not yet been done.

It adds that it would expect the authority to have a “minimum core” of evidence supporting each aircraft’s grounding – including a damage report, assessment and photographs – but that Qatar Airways has provided Airbus with such documentation for only seven of the 29 aircraft grounded.

Airbus stresses that, since the grounding began with 13 aircraft in summer last year, it has delivered 70 A350s to 22 operators – and the global fleet has reached more than 500. The Qatari regulator is the only one to ground any A350s, and it has only grounded “select” aircraft in the Qatar Airways fleet, while continuing to allow other A350s to fly into Doha.

“The reasons why it did so will be central to the forthcoming trial,” says Airbus.

But it adds that Qatar Airways has “entirely failed to give proper disclosure” of the information underpinning the grounding decision, despite repeated requests.