Swiss trainer aircraft sold to Qatar air force
The PC-21 aircraft to Qatar come with a long-term support contract (Keystone)
The Pilatus aircraft manufacturer says it has landed another major deal, selling a fleet of 24 PC-21 trainer planes to Qatar, as well as a package of ground-based training tools, logistical support and maintenance.
The company says the deal is worth more than SFr600 million ($607 million) and will provide the newly established Qatar air force academy with the training systems from the middle of 2014.
“With the Qatar Emiri Air Force, Pilatus has added yet another new customer to the fold and we are delighted to welcome them to the growing ranks of world class Air Forces operating our platforms,” a statement by Pilatus said on Monday.
It is the third big sale announced by the Swiss manufacturer this year. In May, it sold 55 PC-21 planes to Saudi Arabia and 75 PC-7 to India.
The pacifist Switzerland without an Army group has protested against the latest deal, accusing Qatar of human rights violations and the suppression of opposition groups.
It warned that training aircraft can easily be used against the civilian population. “They are used to train fighter jet and bomber pilots,” a statement said.
The pacifists say it is scandalous that the sale of training aircraft is not subject to restrictions by the law.
For its part, Pilatus Aircraft says the agreements with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and India have filled the order books for the next few years. The company said it plans to create about 400 new jobs in Switzerland.
The federal authorities are examining the deal after Pilatus last week re-filed for an extended export licence to Qatar, a spokeswoman for the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs told the Swiss News Agency.
Trainer aircraft are not covered by the law on war materiel exports.
Pilatus is no stranger to controversy. Some of its products have historically been categorised as dual-use, which means that they can serve in both civilian and military capacities.
Pacifist campaigners argue that Pilatus trainer planes are also used in conflicts against armed rebellions as they are more solid than normal training planes and “practically designed to be armed”.
Since the 1970s, modified Pilatus aircraft are said to have been armed and used in Myanmar, Guatemala, Mexico, Chile, Bolivia, Nigeria, Iraq and Chad.
The sale of PC-21 aircraft systems, notably logistics components, to the United Arab Emirates was briefly suspended earlier this week amid allegations that Swiss-built hand grenades were re-exported from the Gulf state to Syria.
An investigation into the reported shipment is underway.