British Aerospace Defence's chairman and managing director John Weston talks to Tim Ripley about the importance of the Middle East defence market and future trends in the European defence industry.

Q - How much was the Middle East defence market worth to BAe last year?

A - Probably 45% of the company's sales in defence business in the past year, some £3 billion ($4.5 billion). It is obviously very important to us. We are always keen to build on the success of the Middle East marketplace.

Q - To what do you attribute your company's success in this region?

A - We've got products with good reputations and improving levels of support and service. We have a number of serious relationships with customers in the region which have stood the test of time. The relationship between the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia, our main customer in the region, is very deep-seated.

Q - What are the prospects for new business in the Middle East?

A - I never speculate about the word 'soon' when talking about new business in the Middle East, however I am optimistic in the medium term of adding to the Al Yamamah [oil for arms] programme. And Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Oman and Kuwait have all been good customers in the past.

Q - There are rumours that the UAE has decided to buy new Mirages and F-16s instead of your Eurofighter. Your comment?

A - A deal is never done until it is done. We've got as good a product range as anyone.

In Eurofighter, Gripen and Hawk you have something to suit every requirement in the Middle East. I am enthusiastic about Eurofighter.

By the end of the year we will get the political approval from the partner countries for production of 620 aircraft.

We are delighted with the way the aircraft performs. It is difficult to beat on cost-effectiveness. The UAE has shown significant interest in the aircraft.

We have a good track record of providing innovative financial solutions, tailoring offset deals to customers' requirements.

As far as I am concerned the competition is still open.

Q - What other prospects are there for you in the region?

A - Further Hawks, infrastructure, support, upgrades to aircraft - we've just sold Jaguar upgrades to Oman - guided weapons and naval programmes.

Q - Would the upgrading of Saudi Arabia's 120 Tornado aircraft be a major programme for you?

A - You would naturally expect that anyone with a considerable number of Tornados would look at upgrading their aircraft.

It is a little early to speculate on RSAF requirements. The size of the project would depend on what the customer wants.

Q - Is your vision of a European defence-aerospace company to draw together the continent's industry still on track?

A - It is. The idea that we need to do something in Europe is a growing commonality of view in the key countries.

Consolidation was on the agenda of all the recent Franco-German, Anglo-French and Anglo-German summits. We do have a common understanding to see something done. Now we have to sort out a plan.

Q - Has the new UK government been as supportive of your company as its predecessors?

A - We have not seen any diminuation of the excellent support of Her Majesty's Government for our markets, particularly the Middle East.

We are very pleased with their support and the support of individual ministers

Q - How does your company rate the Dubai air show?

A - It is one of the key shows in the Middle East. It allows us to exhibit in the region and allows a number of customers to visit us easily. We value the size of the show which allows us good opportunities for quality time with customers.

Source: Flight Daily News