Military finds fundamental faults with CASA planes

The Defense Ministry has given Omnipol, the supplier of the faulty Spanish transporter planes, three weeks to put them in order

Grounded? Navigation and safety issues have rendered some CASA planes unusable. foto: ČTKČeská pozice

Grounded? Navigation and safety issues have rendered some CASA planes unusable.

The Spanish CASA transport aircraft purchased by the Czech armed forces have failed tests and the new owners are demanding that the supplier, the Czech arms trading company Omnipol, see that the faults are put right within three weeks. The DefenseMinistry has said that it will consider cancelling the contract and returning the planes.

According to the daily Ml?dá fronta dnes (Mfd), there are fundamental faults with the CASA planes’ navigation and safety systems, which make the aircraft unusable. The safety systems are essential for transporting military personnel into conflict zones, which is one of the main intended uses for the CASA planes.

Defense Ministry inspectors found more than ten faults with the safety system; the navigation system is also reported to be faulty and is unreliable when landing. During a test flight from the Prague-Kbely military airfield, the plane suddenly plunged 1.5 kilometers in altitude.  

“The tests were stringent, and so far the test results are unsatisfactory. But this is nothing out of the ordinary for us when testing the latest technology being commissioned. Now it’s necessary to put right all the shortcomings with the system in order for the plane to be 100 percent ready,” General Bohuslav Dvořák told the news channel ČT24.

Dvořák said that it is entirely Omnipol’s responsibility to see to it that the faults are put right. If the arms supplier fails to do so, it will be up to the Defense Ministry’s armaments acquisition department to press for compensation — or arrange for the cancellation of the contract and subsequent return of the aircraft to the supplier. ‘If the faults are put right by this deadline, extra military tests will be conducted.’

“We have set April 30 as the deadline for the correction of the faults identified. If the faults are put right by this deadline, extra military tests will be conducted,” the Czech military’s Chief of Staff Vlastimil Picek said in a statement.      

The contract for the purchase of four CASA C-295M was signed by former defense minister Vlasta Parkanová in May 2009, under the Civic Democratic (ODS) government headed by Mirek Topolánek, on the day before she was replaced as minister by Martin Barták (ODS) — who is now under investigation for having allegedly solicited a bribe from former US ambassador William Cabaniss.

The CASA planes were bought without the defense ministry issuing a public tender, which the European Commission says amounts to a breach of EU rules and has initiated legal proceedings in the European Court of Justice. In September 2010, the weekly Respekt reported that Omnipol pocketed Kč over 800,000 in commission from the deal — Omnipol denied the claim but did not produce evidence to dispel the report.

Defense Minister Alexandr Vondra (ODS) has initiated an internal investigation into the purchase of the four CASA planes and other military purchases.