A British judge denied a request by Qatar Airways to force Airbus to keep building A321neo jets for the Gulf airline, in a setback to the carrier amid a wider aeroplane dispute that has triggered a major falling out in United Kingdom courts.
Tuesday’s decision means the world’s largest planemaker is free to market the in-demand jets to other airlines while the two sides pursue a separate dispute over the safety of larger A350 jets.
Airbus revoked the A321neo deal in January in retaliation for Qatar’s refusal to take A350s in their core dispute over damage to the painted protective layer of the larger jets.
The judge rejected Qatar’s argument that it could not obtain similar aircraft to make up the shortfall in A321neo supply, for example by turning to the leasing market or by deploying 737 MAX jets that it has provisionally ordered from Boeing.
The decision does not rule out Qatar reinstating the contract at a fuller trial, but means the cost of filling any gap between now and then can only be addressed by financial damages rather than forcing Airbus to build its customised jets.
A hearing in London’s High Court was expected to turn later on Tuesday to the timing of what amounts to a widely watched corporate divorce trial, despite what some sources described as a glimmer of hope of an eventual settlement.
The knock-on decision to cancel the A321neo deal alarmed some airlines, with the head of the International Air Transport Association describing it as a “worrying” development in a corner of the market where Airbus enjoys the bulk of new orders.
The head of Dubai’s Emirates airline has said he is “not unsympathetic” to its main Gulf rival over the A321neo fallout.