French Defense Industrial Re-Set as France Prepares to Re-Emerge from the Coronavirus Crisis


By Pierre Tran

Paris – Dassault Aviation has resumed training flights for Indian pilots on the Rafale fighter jet, as the aircraft builder seeks to meet contract requirements despite the deadly spread of coronavirus.

“At Merignac, the (conversion training center) activities started on Monday with a daily mission for two Indian Rafales, in order to meet our contractual obligations for delivery,” executive chairman Eric Trappier said April 8 in a note to staff on the company website.

Merignac is the main Dassault factory, a suburb of Bordeaux, southwest France.

Flights have also restarted with the ATL2 maritime patrol aircraft and Falcon 900 light jet, both flying from Istres, southern France, he said.

The national quarantine will be extended a further four weeks to May 11, president Emmanuel Macron said in an April 13 broadcast to the nation, as he called for continued strict observation of the lock down.

On the training flights, the Merignac authorities had posted a schedule to address local noise concerns, with Indian pilots due to fly from October 2019 to March 2021, with take-off and landing from Bordeaux airport, Monday to Friday between 8.30 am and 6 pm (local time).

Qatari pilots had flown their Rafale training missions from April 8 to June 7 2019, with three to four flights per week, the Merignac website said.

France was due to deliver the next Rafale to India in May and it remained to be seen whether that hand over will go ahead as scheduled, in view of uncertainty sparked by the pandemic, an industry source said.

That government-to-government Rafale deal led to the Oct. 8 formal delivery of the first aircraft in the Indian order for 36 units, worth some €7.9 billion ($8.7 billion).

Clients normally pay the last instalment on a deal when delivery has taken place. That payment will be welcome in view of strain stemming from a shut down of production.

Industrial re-set

Dassault’s industrial re-set follows requirements of the defense ministry and Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office, Trappier said in a video to staff.

The return to production reflected priorities agreed with clients, he said. The top priority was to support the French forces, flying Rafale and Mirage 2000 fighter jets, and ATL2 aircraft. Development for certain programs would also be pursued.

Export clients are also important, particularly India, which is seeing serious effects of the pandemic, he said.

The company has adopted SMS texts to keep personnel up to date.

Dassault has gradually re-opened its nine factories and offices around the country.

The ATL2 flights relate to a program to upgrade the combat system to standard 6. That modernization covers 18 units, with Dassault upgrading the first seven, and the SIAé aircraft maintenance center working on the remaining 11 units.

The upgrade included Thales Search Master radar with active antenna, acoustic subsystem for sonar buoys for anti-submarine warfare, and a Dassault navigation console. There are also new consoles developed by SIAé and software for information processing from Naval Group.

The first two upgraded ATL2s were delivered last October, with the last upgrade due in 2023.

Conserve cash

In the financial disruption, Thales said April 7 it was cancelling a planned final 2019 dividend of €430 million to conserve cash, and signed a €2 billion bank loan to boost access to funds. That bank credit was available for 12 months, with an option to extend for six months.

Those funds were in addition to €2.9 billion in cash and cash equivalent, and a €1.5 billion credit facility.

In France, there were 14,967 deaths due to Covid-19, with 137,779 confirmed cases, according to John Hopkins university.

Of those fatalities, 5,379 were in rest homes, and 9,588 in hospitals, afternoon daily Le Monde reported April 14. The health ministry said April 13 there had been 335 deaths over the last 24 hours, compared to 310 on Sunday.

Among the measures Macron announced in his broadcast were distribution of face masks to the general public, and schools and colleges to re-open from May 11. Museums, restaurants and cinemas will remain closed under the lock down.

Macron sought to inspire hope in his speech and his delivery was seen as an attempt to show a gentler, more human face than his previous broadcast, which invoked a martial spirit with six references to war.

“The results are there,” he said. “Several regions have been spared. In the last few days, the number under intensive care has fallen.

“Hope is reborn.”

Featured Photo: GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

In an article by Eszter Zalan published in the EUObserver on April 15, 2020, the general challenge of the Europeans returning to some form of normalcy in terms of work was highlighted.

The EU commission on Wednesday (April 15, 2020) is set to roll out a set of recommendations for EU countries to better coordinate easing lockdown measures to avoid spillovers between member states. 

While the EU executive cannot force member states to act in unison, it wants to make sure counties take into account the situations of neighbouring countries, according to a spokesperson. 

The recommendations call for member states to notify each other and the commission before measures are loosened. 

It warns that “any level of gradual relaxation” of measures will “unavoidably” mean increase in new coronavirus cases. 

It argues for a gradual easing, starting small and local, with opening schools and universities, while restaurants and mass events should only allowed at a later stage. The EU’s internal borders should open first before its external borders are accessible again.

The EU executive argues that three conditions should be met to ease restrictions: “the spread of the disease has significantly decreased for a sustained period of time”, the health care system has sufficient capacity and there is effective monitoring including large-scale testing. 

The commission also recommends contact tracing by the use of mobile apps, which should respect data privacy and should be voluntary. 

German foreign minister Heiko Maas on Tuesday called for a single smartphone app to be used across the EU.

Countries should also be ready to revise their approach if more data comes in, or there is a risk of another wave in the spread of the virus, the comission says. 

“We will have to live with the virus until a vaccine or treatment is found,” the commission’s document warns.