* Rivel holes in rear fuselage caused the problem
* Eurofighter says flight safety not affected (Adds shares, analyst comment)
By Stephen Brown and Michael Shields
BERLIN/VIENNA, Oct 1 (Reuters) - A manufacturing problem has been discovered with the fuselage of Eurofighter combat planes, halting some deliveries, but none of the jets has been grounded, European military officials said on Wednesday.
The problem was caused by the way rivet holes were drilled in part of the rear fuselage of the European warplane, which is operating in the air forces of six countries.
German defence ministry spokesman Ingo Gerhartz described the problems as “annoying”.
Pending a solution, he said Berlin had stopped taking delivery of the jets but that the problem would not affect the German air force’s immediate capabilities, which are already in the spotlight after a spate of technical issues.
The Eurofighter jet, also known as Typhoon, was developed for four nations - Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain - which have so far taken delivery of 371 aircraft out of 472 on order.
The aircraft has also been exported to Austria and Saudi Arabia, and Oman recently agreed to become a customer.
It is built by BAE Systems in Britain, by Airbus Defence & Space on behalf of Germany and Spain, and by Italian aerospace firm Finmeccanica.
Shares in the manufacturing companies underformed a weaker European market, with BAE Systems shedding 1.8 percent against a 0.9 percent decline in the UK FTSE-100 blue-chip index.
Defence analysts said they were not immediately worried about the possibility of long-term disruption, however.
“The key thing is that no one is grounding any aircraft and on that basis we are not not talking about a catastrophic failure,” said Francis Tusia, editor of Defence Analysis.
Eurofighter GmbH, an umbrella firm responsible for coordinating the design and marketing the jet, said it was aware of the problem and working with the plane’s customers.
“We would like to make clear that this issue does not affect flight safety, neither does it impact ongoing fleet flying or limit fleet operations,” Chief Executive Alberty Gutierrez said in a statement.
The German defence spokesman said the fuselage fault had been discovered in Britain where BAE Systems had identified drill holes “which do not meet design criteria”.
BAE Systems declined to comment on the fault but said it continued to deliver aircraft “in accordance with contractual requirements” to the UK and Saudi air forces.
Austria’s military, which has taken delivery of all 15 of the aircraft it ordered, said the problem arises from weak spots at the rear of the fuselage and reduces the expected life of the part to 2,000 flight hours from 6,000. That means it would take 15 years before it affected the planes.
Most of the fuselage is made by Premium Aerotec, a German subsidiary of Airbus Group, but the top part of the hull and the tail are made by BAE Systems, according to diagrams on the British defence contractor’s website. (Writing by Tim Hepher, additional reporting by Jens Hack, Sarah Young; Editing by Larry King and Tom Heneghan)