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Aircraft purchase Swiss-Swedish plane deal fires up vote campaign

Pilatus PC-21 are used to train up fighter pilots


Swiss aircraft producer Pilatus and Swedish aerospace company Saab are planning to set up a joint software development centre. They have also signed an agreement for the sale of Pilatus trainer aircraft to Sweden in return for the acquisition of Gripen fighter jets by Switzerland.

A memorandum of understanding to produce and deliver about 20 PC-21 trainer planes has been signed, according to statements published in Stans and Linköping on Friday.

It added that Pilatus and Saab aimed to create about 100 new jobs in the aerospace sector for the production of PC-21, the Gripen and other aircraft types made by both manufacturers.

Details, including the site of a new production centre in Switzerland, are still to be decided.

All the planned measures could generate orders worth about CHF500 million ($564 million) over the next eight years, according to the statement.

The planned deal is linked to a vote in Switzerland on May 18 on the purchase of 22 Gripen fighter aircraft for the Swiss Air Force.

Parliament approved the deal last year, but pacifists and centre-left parties have collected enough signatures for a referendum aimed at blocking the acquisition. They argue the CHF3.3 billion earmarked for the purchase is a waste.


“A decision to proceed with the purchase of the Gripen would take Pilatus one step closer to concluding a PC-21 contract, creating a win-win situation for both countries,” the Swiss company said.

“This is a long-term partnership that makes sense, and would benefit both Sweden and Switzerland,” said Pilatus Aircraft chief executive Markus Bucher.

For its part, Saab said Pilatus could provide the PC-21 if the Swedish Air Force decided to replace its current SK-60, developed by Saab in the early 1960s.

Last year, Pilatus Aircraft chairman Oscar Schwenk criticised the system of compensatory business deals. In return for the purchase of foreign aircraft, Swiss companies are offered contracts to produce components. He instead called for the sale of Swiss-built training aircraft to Sweden.

The Swiss defence ministry says Saab has offered compensation deals totalling up to CHF2.5 billion to Swiss firms over the next few years in offset deals for the Gripen.

By the middle of March orders worth CHF250 million had been confirmed.


Christian Levrat, president of the Social Democratic Party, has dismissed the importance of the possible sale of Pilatus aircraft to Sweden.

His centre-left party, traditionally critical of the armed forces, has helped to bring about a nationwide vote. On Swiss public radio RTS Levrat attacked the defence ministry for running a campaign of disinformation and propaganda to win additional votes.

He criticised Defence Minister Ueli Maurer of “pulling the wool over voters’ eyes”.

Campaigners against the Gripen purchase say Saab is reneging on an earlier pledge for up to 50 Pilatus planes, undermining its own credibility.

"The volume of the Pilatus business has suddenly been halved. Transparency appears to be an alien concept for the Swedish aerospace company," a statement said.

Opponents of the deal have also accused the Swedish government and Saab of interfering in the campaign ahead of the vote by sponsoring public air shows and staging special events.

Earlier this month Swedish Defence Minister Karin Enström visited Switzerland to sign a deal on closer military cooperation between the two countries.


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