Airbus’s ambitions for future sales of its A350 may be thwarted by escalating tension with Qatar Airways.

The Doha carrier, which has grounded 21 of its 53-strong fleet of A350s, yesterday issued legal proceedings against Airbus in the High Court in London.

It accuses the European manufacturer of failing to resolve a problem with “accelerated surface degradation adversely impacting” the aircraft.

It said: “Qatar Airways has therefore been left with no alternative but to seek a rapid resolution of this dispute via the courts…

“We strongly believe Airbus must undertake a thorough investigation of this condition to conclusively establish its full root cause. Without a proper understanding of the root cause of the condition, it is not possible for Qatar Airways to establish whether any proposed repair solution will rectify the underlying condition. Qatar Airways’ number-one priority remains the safety of its passengers and crew.”

Airbus remained relatively silent yesterday, simply confirming the court case ”relating to the dispute over the degradation of surface and paint on certain of Qatar Airways’ A350XWB aircraft”.

It said: “Airbus is in the process of analysing the contents of the claim. Airbus intends to vigorously defend its position.”

However, earlier this month it said the issue was a “mischaracterisation of non-structural surface degradation”, and acknowledged that the companies had been “unable to settle during direct and open discussions”.

Airbus claimed surface paint findings had been thoroughly assessed by itself and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) as having “no airworthiness impact on the A350 fleet”.

More controversially, it added: “The attempt by this customer to misrepresent this specific topic as an airworthiness issue represents a threat to the international protocols on safety matters.”

And it said Qatar had dismissed all its proposed solutions, adding: “In parallel, Airbus is working to re-establish a constructive dialogue with its customer on this matter but is not willing to accept inaccurate statements of this kind to continue.”

Finnair, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Lufthansa and Air France have also complained, but Airbus noted that proposed corrective steps had been taken and the problem “is different in nature”.

Chief executive of Qatar Airways Akbar Al-Baker is known as a tough negotiator and the battle will no doubt be brutal, as both the carrier and aircraft-maker fight to bring the industry back to profitability. Qatar has more than 80 Airbus aircraft in its fleet, but 28 are currently parked.

And there could be an impact on Airbus’ sales, with the A350 freighter type beginning production; this week Airbus said it had firmed CMA CGM’s order for four.

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