Polish aircraft manufacturer PZL-Mielec is suing the country's defence ministry over its alleged failure to stick to the terms of a contract to upgrade the I-22 Iryda advanced-jet-trainer.

While Mielec declines to comment on the case, the ministry says that the manufacturer is claiming Pzl17.7 million ($5.5 million) in damages for the ministry's failure to begin flight testing of the upgraded M-96 prototype.

Iryda chief designer Marek Potapowicz says that the ministry had agreed in the contract that the air force would conduct flight trials leading to certification of the upgraded aircraft by the end of 1997, but that it refused to undertake the work without additional factory testing, which the ministry would not fund.

The ministry responded, saying that, under the terms of the contract, the aircraft was supposed to be ready for testing in April. When it was finally presented for trials in September, it did not have the necessary quality-control certificate, without which, the ministry says, the aircraft is not safe to test-fly.

The ministry, which funded the upgrade with an advance of Pzl36 million, which can no longer be located, accuses Mielec of "negligence", and failure to stick to its side of the contract. The ministry has pumped Pzl1billion into the Iryda since the project began, it says.

"We do not intend to pay any more money from the defence budget to keep [Mielec's] workforce employed. We are supposed to be concerned with national defence, not the defence of industry," says the ministry. Employment at Mielec has fallen drastically in recent years to about 1,000 workers.

If Mielec pursues its case, the ministry says that it will countersue, "and that could end very badly for the factory".

Despite this, the air force remains interested in the Iryda, if the manufacturer can demonstrate that it meets an air force requirement for a combat-capable trainer. "We do not just want to fly it around for fun, we want to be able to hang some payload under the wings," says the ministry.

The I-22 has been under fire for being underpowered and hard to handle, with poor low-speed performance and outdated avionics.

The M-96 upgrade, with the addition of leading-edge root extensions, new Fowler flaps and a fin extension, plus French avionics from Sextant Avionique, was intended to solve the programme's problems and become the standard version of the aircraft.

Potapowicz says that the M-96 was completed and test flown nine times by Mielec in August, and testing should have been taken over by the military in September. The prototype has since been grounded, undergoing ground tests until the legal problems are resolved.

Source: Flight International