After an eventful four years at the helm of Europe's best-selling combat aircraft programme, outgoing Eurofighter chief executive Enzo Casolini tells Flight Daily News why, despite domestic budget pressures being felt in its four partner nations, the type has a bright future under his successor, Alberto Gutierrez
Q: Your time in charge of the Eurofighter consortium includes contracts for Tranche 3A production and an export deal with Oman. What have been your personal highlights?
A: As a former officer with the Italian air force, I always had a special attention to customer satisfaction. I'm proud that we tried, and succeeded, to solve some of the issues with the customers, such as in-service support. I pushed hard for a user group, with the chairman of NETMA [NATO Eurofighter and Tornado Management Agency], and two years ago we had the first one, in Florence. For the first time you had real operators there - the people who fly the aircraft - speaking to each other and exchanging information. The second happened in late February in Saudi Arabia, because we don't only have four customers any more, now we have seven [core nations Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, plus export buyers Austria, Oman and Saudi Arabia]. Also, in terms of support, exchanging information among the users is fundamental. My highest satisfaction is that some pilots are in love with this aircraft. For me, this is the best judgment: from the customers who fly the aircraft.
Q: How important is the programme to industry and what are the prospects for Tranche 3B production?
A: Eurofighter is the biggest European defence programme, with more than 100,000 people employed in the four countries. A nation's money goes to a nation's industry, and while over time you might spend a bit more than if you had bought "off the shelf", you have created jobs, revenues and taxes in your country. The decision to split Tranche 3 in two parts was very smart, as it allowed us to make at least one contract [signed in July 2009], because of the problem with the defence budget in the nations, and postpone the other one. Later, the slowdown of the production programme will allow us to continue until the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018 with our production lines, which meant we were ready to receive some export customers. The slowdown also allowed the nations to postpone the milestone gate by which they had to decide if they wished to go for Tranche 3B or not. Now this gate is at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. At the moment the situation is not easy, with elections in Germany in September. Italy has expressed that it doesn't want to go for Tranche 3B, and the same applies for Spain. The UK government in particular is pushing for exports, and some of the export achievements could replace the Tranche 3B numbers, and allow us to continue the programme and the production lines, beyond 2018, and 2020 probably.
Q: Where do your best opportunities lie for further international sales?
A: In the Gulf area we have a lot of opportunities: not only a possible second batch with Saudi Arabia but also the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait. This is really a place where opportunities are very important, and it depends on the attitude of our governments to support this kind of activity. The visit by UK prime minister David Cameron to the Eurofighter pavilion at the Farnborough show last summer was appreciated very much. It showed a willingness to support the aircraft and exports. The UAE prospect started in October 2010, and I'm very optimistic. They want to have the best in the world, and very good technology transfer and industrial participation. We are working on that with BAE Systems, and it would be fantastic if we could say something more around the time of the Dubai air show in November. We, the Eurofighter community, are in a very good shape, but the work is not finished.
Q: With India yet to sign a production deal for the Dassault Rafale, does Eurofighter still have a chance of selling the Typhoon to New Delhi?
A: The situation is unclear. Until today, the Indian government has said: "Dassault is the one that we want to talk to." However, we are ready, we are standing by, and we wait for the Indian government to decide.
Q: How important are new capabilities such as adding an active electronically scanned array radar?
A: We are trying to include this kind of advanced capability in the shortest time possible; customers want this as soon as possible, not in 15 years. It's a fundamental enhancement for the future role of Eurofighter. We received a request for quotations from NETMA and the nations last August for the E-Scan, responded to by the end of November, and made an appendix for some other requirements in January this year. There is an offer on the table, which the nations are reviewing. We have to wait, but in the meantime we are proceeding with our development programme with our partner Euroradar. At the beginning of 2014 there will be the first flight of the [AESA] equipment on a Eurofighter, so we are working very hard. The timescale is essential for the export market. At the moment, all four nations are going in the same direction for the first steps. Longer-term, with some small money thrust, vectoring could also be carried out - then Eurofighter would be an unbeatable aircraft. We have already had an initiative called "improving process and performance". This is mainly related to how to reduce the time to make certification and qualification on what you do as modifications to the aircraft. This is fundamental to reducing time and cost, and an aspect we have to perform in the quickest way.
Q: What chance is there for European manufacturers to win orders in F-35 partner nations such as the Netherlands?
A: The [Lockheed Martin] F-35 is a politically-driven solution from the USA, and decisions have been made. But the F-35 has demonstrated, like all the big fighter programmes, that a sophisticated programme is not so easy to develop and succeed. Maybe in 10 years it will be okay, but at the moment it is in the middle of this. For a customer, if you make a fair competition then I will come and I will do it, but if not I will not spend any money to send my people. The Netherlands has a lot of MoUs [memoranda of understanding] already signed, and I do not believe they will leave the [F-35] programme. But my successor and my shareholders will decide what to do.
Q: What lessons have you been able to share with your successor?
A: The four-nation team is working very well, and also with our main interface, NETMA, which is relocating to the same Hallbergmoos site in Munich next year. This will be a big advantage. It's a fantastic opportunity for my successor [Alberto Gutierrez] to have Paris right away, because it is a great chance for him to meet a lot of stakeholders in the Eurofighter programme. I will be there just to support him on this introduction, then I will go back to Italy for a couple of months, and we will see what I do next. I have some ideas. It was a nice time, and a good experience with the people.
New Eurofighter chief executive Alberto Gutierrez will make his first public presentation at the show on 19 June