Julian Moxon/PARIS

Serge Dassault has rejected any merger of the Dassault group with the new Aerospatiale/ Matra Hautes Technologies company "-until the conditions are right and when it is in our interests to do so". Any merger will only be undertaken on the basis of "clear industrial and commercial benefits", he adds.

Pointing to the strong financial performance of Dassault Aviation, which achieved profits of Fr1.3 billion ($210 million) in 1997 on a Fr21 billion turnover, Dassault says: "I am quite happy to remain isolated. It suits me perfectly."

He adds that the merger of Dassault Electronique with the Thomson/Alcatel defence electronics group "-clearly demonstrates my willingness to take part in cooperation. In this case the result is improved access to technology for both sides".

He rejects speculation that Dassault has been under intense pressure from the government to merge with Aerospatiale as a condition for receiving the long-awaited multi-year procurement contract for 48 Rafale combat aircraft. "We have total agreement with the government on our position, which is that we intend to remain independent," Dassault says.

The recent handover of the government's 45.76% stake in Dassault Aviation to Aerospatiale will make no difference to the running of the group, he says. Cooperation on various technical programmes will continue. "But we have no intention of becoming financiers to a mega group".

"I will be the first to join an alliance if I see extra aircraft sales," says Dassault. The new European Aerosystems joint venture with British Aerospace was also "fully supported by the government". The two companies see eye to eye, "-because their practical vision is to look at what is interesting in the market and act on it, and because we each have technologies of interest to the other".

Dassault will deliver the first production Rafale to the French air force on 23 November and the first navy aircraft early in 1999. Even after the multi-year order is received, however, deliveries will be over an extended period and the company is therefore depending on exports for its future income from the combat aircraft business.

Dassault has identified a market for 2,500-3,000 fighters between 2000 and 2010. "We will propose the Rafale in some cases and the Mirage 2000 in others," he says. One such customer could be Greece, which has issued a request for information on a potential purchase of up to 60 fighter aircraft to add to the 80 Lockheed Martin F-16s and 40 Mirage 2000s it already has in service.

Source: Flight International