British Aerospace is now gearing up for Eurofighter production after last week’s German parliamentary vote backed the project and Spain also pledged its financial support.
In the next few weeks the Eurofighter production investment memorandum of understanding (MoU) will be signed by the British, German, Italian and Spanish governments.
A separate MoU between the Eurofighter consortium in Munich and Netma, the NATO Eurofighter-Tornado Management Agency, will be `signed any day now’, BAe added.
The investment priority is the construction of five pre-production aircraft to follow the seven development aircraft already built.
Decisions have been taken on where these aircraft will be assembled, but BAe could not specify exact locations, other than confirming that `one or more will be assembled in Britain’.
The first production contract, including the five pre-production aircraft, will be signed next spring. `At the moment we’re looking to an 18 month build-time for the five aircraft,’ BAe said.
While final assembly and some production will be at BAe’s Warton site in Lancashire, nearby Salmesbury `will also have major inputs’.
Around 5,000 BAe people now work on Eurofighter. At peak production, the aircraft will directly provide 15,000 jobs to the UK aerospace industry and up to 70,000 indirect jobs. Across Europe some 200,000 jobs will depend on Eurofighter.
BAe scotched predictions of the aircraft entering service late and said the first Eurofighter would join the RAF in 2001, with `most of a squadron’ in service in 2002.
BAe has interest from five customers: Norway, the United Arab Emirates and Australia, as well as a Middle East country and another in the Asia-Pacific region.
The export push to Norway is led by Germany, and that to the Middle East by BAe.