One central plot device in the Charles Dickens classic Bleak House is a long-running court case referred to as Jarndyce v Jarndyce.

A dispute over inheritance, the legal fight drags on for generations until the whole estate is consumed and the case is eventually abandoned.

Dickens used the fictional case to attack the court system, disparaging the length and futility of civil suits in which the only winners are the lawyers.

The current sparring between Europe and the USA over subsidies paid to airframers Airbus and Boeing has not quite been running quite as long as Dickens’ fictional equivalent.

However, the 15th anniversary of the initial complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO) is rapidly approaching, with no resolution in sight.

The latest tit-for-tat moves were triggered by the Trump administration’s decision to target aircraft imports from four European countries - Airbus’s core manufacturing nations of France, Germany, Spain and the UK.

While the list of products potentially attracting duties includes large civil aircraft and helicopters - along with certain structures and components - it also features a second category, encompassing a broad array of goods from all EU states, including fruit and cheese.

The European Commission has predictably retaliated in kind, targeting US-built civil aircraft and helicopters, plus a further basket of products originating across the Atlantic.

Both sides say they want to resolve the dispute through dialogue, but also claim to be in the right.

Non-compliant subsidies have been ended, they say, while simultaneously pointing to the other party and claiming perfidy.

Like bickering children in a playground, each says it was not their fault and, besides, the other started it.

Any sensible resolution seems as distant as ever, not least with the ultra-protectionist proclivities of the White House’s current incumbent.

Ultimately the prolongation of the dispute will not benefit industry on either side of the Atlantic and could have unintended consequences.

Airlines choose their fleet make-up based not on national allegiance but on operational efficiency. Steep tariffs would threaten that status quo, perhaps to the detriment of the general public if that translates into higher fares.

“Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, over the course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means,” writes Dickens.

Perhaps it is time that all parties in the WTO case heeded that warning.

Source: Flight International