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Airbus protests furiously over Poland's handling of chopper deal
By Djallal Malti, and Michel Viatteau in Warsaw
Paris (AFP) Oct 11, 2016

Airbus on Tuesday angrily lashed out against the Polish government's handling of a failed helicopter deal which has caused diplomatic tensions between Paris and Warsaw.

"Never have we been treated by any government customer the way this government has treated us," Airbus chief executive Tom Enders said in a statement seen by AFP.

The sharp criticism comes days after French President Francois Hollande postponed a visit to Warsaw in response to a breakdown in talks aimed at Poland buying Airbus choppers.

"The controversial and contradictory declarations of the Polish government over the course of this procurement proceedings created the impression of unprecedented confusion," Enders said.

"Airbus wanted to invest in Poland big time and we wanted to contribute to building a competitive aerospace industry in this country. But the Polish government slammed the door on us. We take note of this," he added.

There is disagreement over who actually ended the negotiations, with Poland on Saturday blaming Airbus for the breakdown in talks over what would have been a contract worth more than three billion euros (dollars) for military helicopters.

"I want to make it perfectly clear that it wasn't the Polish side who broke off the talks," Polish Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz told reporters Saturday in Warsaw.

"Unfortunately the two sides did not see eye to eye on the offset package," he said, referring to arrangements whereby a supplier of military hardware typically sweetens a deal by setting up a factory in the purchasing country or agrees to place orders with companies there.

Poland subsequently said it will now buy Black Hawk helicopters from US defence giant Lockheed Martin instead of Airbus's Caracal model.

On Monday Macierewicz said "this week we will open talks" with Lockheed Martin and already on Tuesday he followed up with the news that Warsaw would pick up at least 21 Black Hawks.

He said two Black Hawks produced in Poland would be delivered before the end of the year, followed by eight in 2017 and 11 in 2018.

- 'Confusion' -

The short interval between the announcement of talks and the release of specifics have led some to wonder whether Poland had already been in touch with Lockheed Martin before it officially announced the breakdown of negotiations with Airbus last week.

Poland's liberal opposition put forward the hypothesis and called for a parliamentary probe into the military contracts.

Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky had been among Airbus's competitors for the chopper deal that fell apart, a fact not lost on Enders.

"The confusion has been further increased by the latest declarations of the Polish government concerning the purchase of helicopters from contractors who decided to submit non-compliant offers in the tender and were disqualified," he said.

"We have an impression that we have been misled for months by the current Polish government. We spent a huge amount of efforts and money in recent years trusting that we were in a fair and professionally-conducted competition.

"We will of course seek remedies," he concluded on Tuesday.

Polish media had earlier already suggested that Airbus may want to pursue the matter in court. Deputy Defence Minister Bartosz Kownacki countered that it was Poland that was in a position to seek damages from Airbus, without elaborating.

Further fuelling the debate, Airbus Helicopters chief Guillaume Faury on Tuesday sent an open letter to Poland's Prime Minister Beata Szydlo rejecting Warsaw's arguments for picking Lockheed over Airbus.

The letter addresses disputes over investment and employment in Poland and also takes issue with Polish ministers claiming that their choice was motivated by national security interests.

Poland's previous liberal government had announced in 2014 it was planning to buy Airbus choppers as part of a major military upgrade triggered by regional tensions over Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine that year.

But the new right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) administration called the deal into question not long after it took office in late 2015.




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