Austria is planning to sue Airbus and Eurofighter GmbH over the troubled contract for 15 Eurofighter jets in 2007, according to news reports from Austria. An investigation by the ministry of Defense in Vienna has shown that fraud was likely involved in the deal, which was worth 1.75 billion EUR. In a response, Airbus said it is ‘surprised’.
In 2003, Austria was about to purchase a total of 18 Eurofighters for 2 billion EUR, with offset orders worth 4 billion EUR also part of the deal. After a change of government, the Alpine country wanted to back out of the deal, but after much hassle a deal was finally closed in 2007 for 15 Eurofighters against a 250 million EUR price reduction.
An investigation has been running since 2012 and has now found out that fraud was likely involved. Payments worth many millions of euro’s were made to firms that only existed on paper. The Austrian government is now seeking compensation in a court case.
Airbus later on Thursday said the Austrian government never dicussed the findings with the company, and that it only learned about the allegations through the media. Airbus also states it ‘cannot see any foundation’ for the allegation of fraud, but nevertheless will ‘support the authorities in investigating concrete suspicions’.
One of Europe’s now and future main frontline jets, the Eurofighter EF2000 (Typhoon), experiences severe turbulence again. While many of the jets are already non-flyable or in less then the planned combat state with the air forces of Germany, the United Kingdom and supposedly also Spain, Italy, Austria and Saudi Arabia, new production flaws have been found that might seriously shorten the aircraft’s service life. Austria is even looking for a bold way out of its whole Eurofighter deal, using possible bribery as an excuse.
While the UK and Saudi Arabia are still happily not slowing down their purchase plans, the other countries flying the Eurofighter have stopped acceptance of new planes for now. Reason: flaws have been spotted in the rear end of the fuselage. While sources within the Eurofighter consortium say those manufacture errors don’t effect the air worthiness of the aircraft already flying, Eurofighter spokespersons admitted that components in the planes delivered will only last a third of what was expected of them. This means the planes need to go into maintenance more often, need an immediate fix or have to undergo overhaul sooner. That will increase the costs of the jets for those countries paying also for the development of the jets: Germany, the UK, Spain and Italy. Tax payers in those countries already pay top dollar, an estimated 205 million per unit, while the off-the-shelve price is roughly US$ 149 million.
Calculated fuel consumptions run into the 18,000 dollar per flight hour, according to documents from the British government. Cheaper than the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet with US$ 24,500 per hour, slightly more than the French Rafale at 16,500 dollar, but rather expensive if one looks at the F-16 (US$ 7,000) or Swedish-made SAAB JAS 39 Gripen (US$ 4,700).
Austria has long been looking for excuses to pull-out of the special deal it made in 2003 with the Eurofighter consortium for flying 15 of the jets. The Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte paid about US$ 110 million for each jet, but under much pressure to cut the operating costs of the armed forces the number of active fighter pilots has already been reduced to 12, less then the number of jets delivered. Whether that has been influenced by some of the Eurofighters already grounded by either lack of funds for maintenance or technical issues is unclear.
Austrian Defence Minister Gerald Klug said on Friday 3 October 2014 that his department is looking into legal ways to leave the Eurofighter, officially on the grounds of alleged bribery – something that came up during public reviews of the Eurofighter deal in 2012. “I will pursue the best possible result for the tax payer if there is a legal opportunity to do so”, Klug said during a press conference announcing a 243 million dollar cut in the costs of the Austrian defences. Vienna plans to reduce the number of personnel in the armed forces by 1,400 (6%).
“So, what would you like us to do?”, say two Agusta Bell AB212 helicopter pilots, the badges on their flying suits identifying them as ‘Bundesheer’ pilots. “Err, just fly around a bit”, comes the unrehearsed answer of two Airheadsfly.com editors. The pilots take off, turn around and have decided on what they will really do. They position their five tonnes chopper almost on top of two totally unprepared Airheadsfly.com editors, ensuring camera bags, lens caps, sunglasses, note pads and lost ego’s fly everywhere. The noise is deafening, the wind is blinding and for a moment, peaceful Austria seems far, far away.
But still, we are in Linz, Austria, where two Staffels (squadrons) fly the 23 Agusta Bell AB212 helicopters in service with the Austrian Air Force. “But, I have to say, we are experiencing quiet times now”, says ‘Staffelkommandant’ Andreas Buchmayr as he enters one the hangers that usually house flocks of AB212s, but now only shelter two. “A lot of them are in maintenance or are being given an update – and new life – in Italy by Agusta Westland. Here at Linz, we currently have to make ends meet with only a few available helicopters.”
The AB212 has been a mainstay of Austria’s helicopter transport capability since entry into service in 1980. As the fleet amassed over 115,000 flight hours in 2010, an 85 million USD update program was ordered. The goal is to get another 25 years or 100,000 hours out of the helicopters. Modifications bring the 212’s avionics up to par with the latests aviation technology. Self defense suites are also being built into the AB212. The first two modernized choppers were handed over to Kommando Luftunterstützung (Air Support Command) in November 2013.
“It’s actually pretty impressive”, says Buchmayr, who has 3,200 flight hours behind his name and helped develop the AB212 update. “We have a unique set of MFDs in the cockpit, designed exactly to our specifications and making full use of digital technology. Cockpit managment is now completely paperless, as all maps are available on the MFDs, along with complete systems management. It greatly reduces crew workload and makes for easier navigation and communication. The cockpit is now also adapted for use with Helmet Mounted Displays. Flight safety during bad weather and during night time, is greatly improved. Actually, our AB212 helicopters are now at the very top worldwide as far as cockpit technology goes.”
New cockpits or not, the AB212 mission in Austria remains the same; transporting troops, performing search and rescue operations, fighting fires with bambi buckets and alpine flying in the mountains. The AB212 is a very versatile utility helicopter, which is no wonder considering its Bell UH-1 Huey heritage.
So, it’s also no wonder the Austrians want to keep in service for a lot longer. The update program is planned to by complete by 2016, at which time the hangers at Linz will be filled with choppers once again. Pilots will be fully trained on the new cockpit, and when they ask “so, what would you like us to do?”, two totally prepared Airheadsfly.com editors will know what to answer.
It’s four past three in the afternoon in Linz, Austria, and Jürgen ‘Lucky’ Cirtek turns his eyes to the west, only to say ‘there they are!’ before anyone else does. ‘They’ are three Saab 105s, returning to Linz after a 2 vs 1 training mission, and Cirtek, he is commanding officer of the Düsentrainerstaffel, better known as ‘the Tigers’. The squadron is getting ready for this year’s Tiger Meet, but there’s also the regular surveillance missions to be flown, interceptions to be carried out and training to be done for aspiring Austrian Air Force Typhoon pilots. Welcome to the Tigers.
At the airfield of Linz Hörsching, it’s a hot day. “Air conditioning? Of course! ”, says Cirtek when asked if the Saab 105OE provides air conditioning to its occupants. The design may date from the sixties and the cockpit is all about dials and gauges, air condition the Swedish Saab certainly has. At Linz, the remaining 18 Austrian Air Force Saab 105OE aircraft – out of an original 40 – are still used on daily basis for operational tasks and training purposes. Austria has been using the type since 1970.
“Every Austrian knows the Saab 105”, says Cirtek as he walks the Düsentrainerstaffel hangar, where four aircraft are parked and a larger number are stored, never to fly again. All are in different configurations, illustrating the active roles the trusty type still has in the Austrian military. “This is the basic trainer version”, the head Tiger says while pointing to a Saab equipped with two ejection seats in the cockpit. The left seat is for the student pilot while the right seat is for the instructor. “From the left, all flight controls can be reached. So, when a pilot flies the Saab 105 solo, it will always be from the left seat.”
It’s old skool on the Saab. No fancy fly by wire, MFDs or GPS cordinates here. “It’s an aviator’s aircraft, one that requires contstant attention from the pilot. You really learn to fly on this”, says Cirtek, who himself has 2,500 flight hours under his belt, many of which were on the Saab 105. He was the designated airshow pilot for a number of years.
Student pilots come the Tiger staffel at Linz after basic training on the Pilatus PC-7. In two phases they learn the in & outs of Saab 105 flying. An any moment, four out of 15 pilots at Düsentrainerstaffel are student pilots, with becoming a Typhoon pilot as the ultimate goal. “Since 2011, pilots selected for Typhoon continue their training with the Italian Air Force in Lecce, flying the Aermacchi MB-339CD. There, they get used to things like the head up display (HUD), which the Saab doesn’t have. After that, they go to Laage in Germany to fly the Typhoon.” Finaly, they end up in Zeltweg, where the 15 Austrian Air Force’s Typhoons are located. Both the Saab 105s and the Typhoons are part of the air force’s Überwachungsgeschwader – or fighter wing.
The Saab 105 sometimes functions as an intercept target for Typhoons. But, interception of unknown aircraft is also a task for the Tigers themselves, albeit a difficult one. The configuration of the aircraft is the same as the training configuration. Cirtek: “We get to intercept aircraft, but speed and the lack of radar are issues. We cannot keep up with an airliner above FL390, and below that, it still takes a lot of ground controlled intercept (GCI) work to arrive at the target at exactly the right speed. It’s quite demanding.” However, the fact that Austrian Saab 105s have more powerful General Electric J85-GE-17B engines than their Swedish equivalents, helps quite a bit.
Next up in the hangar is an aircraft about to be fitted with an Adler 30mm gunpod, which makes it suited for ground support, a speciality that is trained twice a year at gunnery ranges in Austria. Also in the hangar is a VIP-variant of the Saab 105, offering space to a pilot and three passengers. No ejection seats in this one. The variants that do have ejection seats, are getting the old seats replaced with newer ones from Sweden. It is one of the few updates that limited funds allowed over the last few years. Work to replace some avionicis is also in progress, with one modified aircraft available at Linz.
Austria expects the Saabs at Linz to fly until 2020, however nobody knows what its replacement will be. The uncertain future could lead to experienced instructor pilots to look elsewhere, leaving the Austrian Air Force with a huge gap in training knowledge and experience. For the time being, Cirtek enjoys flying the Saab. “My most memorable flight was during the Air Power airshow at Zeltweg in 2013, when I flew as lead pilot in a 4-ship aerobatic display. That took a lot of effort by all involved, but it was very rewarding.”
The same joy will be felt during the Tiger Meet, starting 16 June in Schleswig Jagel in Germany. Düsentrainerstaffel is a long time member of the tiger association, and their tiger adorned Saab 105 has been a familair sight for several years. “This one we’ve had in these colours since 2010, when we celebrated 40 years of Saab 105 in Austria. Next year, it will be 45 years…. so we are already working on some ideas”, says Cirtek with a wink, while behind him, the last Saab 105 is put in the hangar. It’s seven past four in the afternoon, and that concludes one more day of flying the Saab 105 in Austria.
A great big party was held last week in Austria for a great little airplane. At Zeltweg airbase, the Austrian air force celebrated 30 years of flying the Pilatus PC-7 trainer, made in next door Switzerland. Even more special, it has been 30 years without any serious accident whatsoever.A bit of Swiss and Austrian perfection right there.
In 1983, the first of a total of 16 PC-7s entered Austrian service. In 2012, four aircraft were sold but the remaining aircraft still fly day in day out, providing basic training, instrument training and tactical training for new pilots. At Zeltweg, it was said that the PC-7 can easily go on for another 20 years or so in Austria. Several avionics updates will take care of that.
During the celebration, a PC-7 in ‘Jubiläumslackierung’ (yeah, we like how that sounds) flew over the crowd, which included representatives of the Pilatus factory in Stans. What that Jubiläumslackierung looked like? Well, exactly like the one above.