Germany 'erring on side of safety' regarding Eurofighter defect

Germany said Wednesday decided to “err on the side of safety” after suspending further deliveries of Eurofighter combat jets and reducing their annual flying hours because of a newly discovered manufacturing defect.

Berlin’s announcement late Tuesday that it was refusing to take any more of the 32 Eurofighter Typhoons it has on order — to add to the 108 it already has in its air force — was a severe setback to the European jet’s programme.

The defence ministry said it had detected a fault in the rear fuselage of the twin-engine multirole fighter, and tests would now be carried out to probe the seriousness of the problem.

In the meantime, a ministry spokesman said Wednesday, a decision had been taken to halve Germany’s current Eurofighters’ flight hours from 3,000 hours to 1,500 hours.

“It’s annoying but it’s good to err on side of safety,” he said.

He added that the flying hours of the German army’s Eurofighters were still “very far” from this 1,500-hour bar.

The spokesman said six Eurofighters had been due to be delivered to Germany by the end of the year but would not be accepted until the issue was clarified.

“It is too early to speak of any compensation,” the spokesman told reporters, pointing to the need to first await the outcome of the tests on the aircraft due to be announced soon by British aerospace group BAE Systems.

“It’s possible that in the end there is no consequence… and that the problem isn’t a problem,” he added.

Austria’s defence ministry said Wednesday that its 15 Eurofighters also exhibited the revealed fault.

Spain’s defence ministry, however, said it had “detected no problem” with the Eurofighters in its air force fleet.

– Troubled programme –

The Eurofighter is built by a consortium comprising European airplane maker Airbus, BAE Systems and Finmeccanica of Italy.

Some 390 Eurofighter jets have so far been delivered to six countries — Austria, Spain, Italy, Britain and Saudi Arabia as well as Germany.

BAE said in a statement it was “actively managing a recently discovered quality issue concerning one of the manufacturing processes used during the assembly of the Eurofighter Typhoon rear fuselage”.

It stressed that “we would like to make clear that this issue does not affect flight safety”.

BAE also said it continued to deliver aircraft to the airforces of Britain and Saudi Arabia as per “contractual requirements and in line with the schedule”.

But news of the defect and Germany’s suspension of deliveries are bad blows to the troubled and costly Eurofighter programme.

The sophisticated jet is in competition with France’s Rafale fighter jet for many export contracts.

The Rafale has in the past few days gained a higher profile because France has been using it in US-led airstrikes against Islamic State jihadists in Iraq.

Britain, in contrast, has so far opted to use its older Tornados for its strikes in that campaign.

Both Britain and Germany drastically cut the number of Eurofighters they initially pledged to buy when the planes first came out, badly undermining its cost base.

In May, the head of Airbus’s defence division said production of the fighter jets could cease in 2018 if no more contracts came through.

Financial analyst Christophe Menard, of Kepler Cheuvreux, said that if the manufacturing fault was confirmed “this is extremely annoying to the Eurofighter platform and a negative for all Eurofighter partners: BAE Systems, Airbus and Finmeccanica”.

“The fault could lead to retrofit costs and could also mar the prospects of additional export orders,” he said.