Airbus fed regulator talking points on Qatar jet row, court told

Airbus (AIR.PA) sought to exert influence over the European Union Aviation Safety Agency in a dispute with Qatar Airways over damaged A350 jets, providing the agency with a “Line To Take” when communicating with others, a UK court heard on Friday.

“Airbus sought to, and appears to have succeeded, in exerting its influence over EASA,” the airline said in written arguments at a procedural hearing in a division of London’s High Court.

“Airbus has been following all relevant procedures which includes the involvement of EASA, which is entirely proper and normal as it is the governing civil aviation authority,” an Airbus spokesperson responded.

EASA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The companies are locked in a hefty damages dispute over some 29 A350 jets that Qatar’s regulator has grounded over concerns that surface damage represents a potential safety concern. Airbus and EASA have both said there is no safety risk.

PR experts say a “Line To Take” is a set of talking points often used in Airbus and other organisations, such as government departments in Britain, to prepare answers to media questions.

The claim mirrored Airbus comments previously made during the case that it suspected Qatar Airways of colluding with its own regulator to ground jets in bad faith and win compensation from Airbus, a charge denied by the airline.

Allegations of coordination could determine how far each side has to go in providing internal documents in the case, which has already led to the disclosure of unprecedented detail involving the functioning of the $150 billion jet industry.

Both sides want more communications of their opposing chief executives to be handed over ahead of a possible 2023 trial.

Airbus said that Qatar Airways had repainted and continued to fly two jets that had previously been deemed to be at least as badly damaged as those already grounded, which it said raised questions whether its A350 airworthiness concerns were genuine.

Qatar Airways had no immediate comment ahead of further court arguments expected later on Friday.

Qatar’s regulator, the QCAA, has not responded to requests for comment throughout the months-old dispute.