Vienna: With an announcement by the Austrian defense minister, Norbert Darabos, that he intended to cut the number of Eurofighter Typhoon jets that the country was ordering from European aerospace giant, EADS, charges are now being leveled in the country's media that the country's airspace would be defended only during "office hours."
Darabos, a member of the Social Democrat SPO, did not clarify the number by which the order would be slashed, but has hinted that it may be reduced by as many as six.
The original order was for 18 Eurofighters, under a contract signed in 2003 by the then conservative OVP government. The deal ran into trouble amid allegations of bribery.
Critics also charged that the deal was too extravagant for a small, neutral state such as Austria. The attempt to wriggle out of the contract, or to reduce the order size, has met with resistance in the country, both from political opponents as well as in the media.
Sections of the media have hit back saying that a reduced number of Eurofighters means that they would not be able to assure the safety of Austrian airspace round the clock. In a comment by the daily Kronen-Zeitung, the safety of the country's airspace was described as being assured, "but only in office hours."
The Social Democrats also have to contend with legal implications of canceling the order outright. According to the government's own specialists, legal constraints of the contract mean that any attempt to cancel outright could prove to be costly.
Austria's air force chief, General Erich Wolf, was suspended over irregularities in the contract in April He came under a cloud after charges that a lobbyist for the plane's constructor, EADS, had paid 87,000 euros to a company owned by Wolf's wife when the contract was being negotiated.
A parliamentary commission is currently examining the contract signed with EADS.