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Lacking flight time, military pilots lose licenses

Alexander Pearson
May 3, 2018

Bundeswehr pilots can't get enough flight time amid helicopter shortages and are losing their flying licenses as a result. The report is the latest to shed light on the embarrassing state of Germany's armed forces.

Bundeswehr NH90 transport helicopter on a landing strip
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/rtn - radio tele nord/C. Leimig

More than one in 10 helicopter pilots in the Bundeswehr lost their flying licenses in 2017 because they could not absolve the required amount of flight time, the government said on Thursday.

The Defense Ministry released the figures in a response to a parliamentary inquiry by Green Party lawmaker Agnieszka Brugger.

In its response, the ministry said 19 out of 129 helicopter pilots lost their licenses in 2017 because of insufficient flight time, while 12 out of 135 pilots lost their licenses for the same reason in 2016. The Bundeswehr was able to redistribute the licenses after the pilots completed additional training programs, it added.

Read more: German military short on tanks for NATO mission

Civilians to the rescue

Brugger blamed the failure for some pilots to meet the necessary number of flight hours on a lack of working helicopters.

"Not even a third of the most important types of helicopters are fit for service," she told the dpa news agency. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, Brugger added, was not "getting a grip on the dreary situation."

Read more:  'No more missions for Germany's navy,' warns armed forces ombudsman

A Bundeswehr report published in February found that technical problems had grounded 16 out of a total of 72 CH53 transport helicopters and 13 out of a total of 58 NH90 transport helicopters.

The shortages reportedly forced the Defense Ministry to start renting civilian helicopters to ensure pilots could still get flight time.

German weekly magazine Der Spiegel reported in late 2017 that the ministry had signed a €21 million ($25 million) contract with the General German Automobile Club (ADAC), which has a fleet of helicopters, to allow Bundeswehr pilots to absolve a combined 6,500 flight hours and thereby keep their licenses.

Read more: Only 4 of Germany's 128 Eurofighter jets combat ready


The opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP) slammed the government over the new figures.

"It's scandalous that Bundeswehr troops are losing their flying licenses because inadequate equipment is preventing them from flying enough," deputy FDP leader Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann wrote on Twitter.

She also wrote that German Chancellor Angela Merkel should intervene and put Finance Minister Olaf Scholz "in his place," without elaborating.

Read more: German Defense Minister von der Leyen wants €12 billion more for Bundeswehr

Scholz, a member of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), has ignited an internal government row with members of Merkel's conservatives after presenting a budget that allocated far less money to defense spending than the defense ministry had asked for.

The row follows months of reports lamenting the poor state of the Bundeswehr and repeated pronouncements from the United States demanding Berlin meet the NATO goal of spending at least 2 percent of economic production on defense. Germany spent 1.13  percent of GDP on defense in 2017.

Read more: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hammers Germany over defense spending