IAF scouts for new trainer aircraft

With its entire fleet of basic trainers grounded following a fatal crash in July, the Air Force is seeking to purchase 180 new aircraft at the earliest to fill vital gaps in its pilot training programme. However, a separate plan to buy 40 additional Hawk advanced trainer aircraft has hit a roadblock due to differences over the price between the IAF and the manufacturer.

Concerned about the safety of its pilots after repeated engine failures and fatal crashes of the HPT 32 basic trainer, the IAF has grounded the aircraft for over two months and flying would resume only if they are cleared by a study panel headed by an Air Vice Marshal. "The aircraft have been in service since the early 1980s, around 1984. We have faced a lot problems with the integration of the airframe and engine of the aircraft. Whether we can carry on till 2013-14, which is the life of the aircraft, or should we scrap it, will come out after the study," Air Chief Marshal PV Naik said, speaking ahead of the Air Force Day celebrations on October 8.

While the grounding has hit the pilot training program of the IAF, as an interim measure, the basic training is being conducted directly on the Kiran jet trainers. However, due to the limited number of the Kiran jets, the IAF would be able to sustain the training for a year only, Naik said.

Sources said that the IAF is planning to procure 80 aircraft directly from a foreign vendor and would ask HAL to manufacture 100 in India to absorb the technology needed. However, time may be of the essence in case the HPT 32 trainers are not found fit to fly by the IAF committee.

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