Rafale-Maker Dassault & Airbus Resolve Differences Over ‘FCAS’ Fighter Jet Program?

French aerospace company Dassault ‘Rafale’ Aviation and Airbus have reportedly reached a consensus over Europe’s future fighter jet program, FCAS. The two companies had locked horns over the ‘feasibility’ of aircraft, and who leads the initiative. 

The agreement was first reported by La Tribune, saying it would pave the way for talks between three partner nations — France, Spain, and Germany. 

On March 10, Eric Trappier, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Dassault Aviation, was heard by the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Armed Forces of the French Senate, to discuss the relevance of the project and its viability, which put the dispute in public sight and gathered bad press.

The FCAS (Future Combat Air System) is a tri-national program involving Spain, France, and Germany, and brings together many European companies led by Airbus and Dassault. While both the companies have agreed to a 50-50 share in the aircraft’s development, Trappier criticized the inclusion of the Spanish arm of Airbus, alleging imbalance in negotiations.

A concept of the future European fighter jet, FCAS

“If two states ally, they will make the decisions,” he stated. “How can we ensure our French leadership and our French project management in such an organization?”

“For the NGF and Pillar 1, it’s a two-person household, with Airbus and Dassault, but Airbus weighs two-thirds and Dassault a third. The situation is worse: the 50/50 equilibrium where Dassault held the leadership has shifted to two-thirds/one-third.”

According to AerotimeHub, an aviation portal, Airbus’ weight in the project already forced Dassault to make concessions. For example, Dassault reportedly accepted that about 50 percent of “work packages” were to be done without a designated manager and that the other half would be divided into three, leaving only a third for the French manufacturer to lead.

While there were more points of contention including those of intellectual property rights and ownership, the Dassault CEO remarked that his company was ready for a ‘Plan-B’ in case the situation isn’t resolved. But, the new consensus still doesn’t answer the IPR problems.

However, on March 17, Dirk Hoke, CEO of the defense wing of Airbus along with Antoine Bouvier, the head of Airbus strategy, mergers and public affairs, was called before the French Senate to testify, just like Trappier was called a few days ago.

As the conversation progressed, Hoke stressed that there was no alternative to the FCAS program. Urging to calm the tensions amongst themselves, he said that “there is no plan-B”, in response to Trappier’s apprehensions. He tried to put a broader perspective of Europe’s greater interests, and that the failure of the program would have led to more dependence on Americans.

A speedily inked deal was critical [for Airbus] so Germany’s parliament has time to study and approve it before the summer recess in late June, Hoke said. Timing and the political context in Germany is the reason why Airbus has largely kept quiet about the FCAS kerfuffle, he added, as there is no telling how the issue would fare if dragged into Germany’s election season.

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