The Eurofighter EF2000 remains poised at the end of the runway, its builders' hands hovering over the throttle while Germany's politicians try to find the money to enable the brakes on the programme to be released.

Following talks between the prime ministers and defence ministers of Germany and Britain earlier this month, the belief among members of the four-nation Eurofighter consortium is that the formidable figure of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is now taking a close interest in resolving the problems that have left the aircraft politically stalled for months.

What has particularly exasperated consortium members is that they feel the arguments over the project's validity have long been won, and that the aircraft's latest trials have gone particularly well.

Six recent weeks of 'customer testing' by test pilots and ground crews at Caselle, Italy, went extremely well, says Brian Phillipson, Eurofighter's managing director: "They came away with ear-to-ear smiles. They didn't want anything tweaked."

Paris will see development aircraft DA7 in the air - the first time at an airshow that the aircraft has performed with the production EJ200 engines. Two-seater DA6 will make the type's first appearance in the static display.

Behind the scenes, there will be increasing efforts on the export front. Norway has down-selected Eurofighter and the F-16 Block 60 as replacement contenders for its ageing F-5s, while the United Arab Emirates is to hold a fly-off between Eurofighter and France's Rafale, the winner competing with the F-16 for orders.

Although there has been further talk in recent months of fitting Eurofighter EF2000 with thrust-vectoring, Phillipson says this is currently a relatively low priority.



"It's a very control-rich aircraft - why would we want to carry around another bucket of tin down the rear end?"

Talking to Phillipson, it is apparent that the issue of thrust-vectoring comes well behind the continuing political impasse affecting the aircraft. Ironically, he feels the political arguments have already been won.

"In Germany, to my mind, Eurofighter is no longer a significant issue," he says. "Anyone around the system is convinced that Eurofighter is the right aircraft at the right price."

However, broader issues in German politics - the need to meet the economic criteria for the proposed European single currency and trim the country's budget - have until now occupied all Chancellor Kohl's time. "In the middle of these issues, it has been very difficult to take Eurofighter to one side and give it some attention," says Phillipson. "A few weeks ago, I think Kohl wasn't too focused on it. Now he is."



This change occurred after the meetings between Kohl and new British Prime Minister Tony Blair and their respective defence ministers, Volker Rühe and George Robertson. The British side is understood to have put the case forcefully for releasing the necessary production investment funds that will allow factories in the four nations to start the production process.

"I think Rühe and [finance minister] Waigel accept the money is there and even Kohl seems determined now to get this out of the way."

Pressure on the German government has been increased by Eurofighter's German partner, Dasa, threatening to stop funding work on the project from its own coffers from 1 July.

Phillipson notes that, although the next German Cabinet meeting that could approve the necessary funds is not due to be held until after parliament has risen for its summer recess, German law does allow for this type of decision to be made without parliamentary approval.

However, if a decision does drag on until the end of the year, programme delays of up to six months are likely.


Source: Flight Daily News