Finland to approve interim pilot training service

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Finland's defence ministry is checking the final text of an agreement under which its air force will open a Nordic Pilot Training Centre in partnership with local company Patria.

To be located at Kauhava air base, the NPTC system will use between 30 and 35 upgraded BAE Systems Hawk advanced jet trainers, and offer access to one of Europe's largest expanses of open airspace, says Col Petri Tolla, commander of the Finnish air force's training wing.

A long-term operator of the Hawk 50/51, Finland also last year acquired 18 secondhand Hawk 66 trainers from Switzerland to support its new training school. The ex-Swiss aircraft and some of Finland's legacy Hawks are undergoing a major upgrade, which Tolla says will meet training requirements potentially until 2025. The first modernised aircraft is scheduled to fly in August or September, and to enter use next year.

Enhancements include INS/GPS navigation equipment, multifunction cockpit and head-up displays and a new mission planning and debriefing system. The cockpit will have a general configuration, rather than be optimised specifically for Finland's Boeing F/A-18C/D fighters.

"From 2010 we will have one of the most modern training systems in Europe," says Tolla, with the improved Hawks to develop skills including fighter procedures, situational awareness, decision making and information management.

A final decision on the NPTC scheme is expected within weeks, with the air force to provide aircraft, instructorpilots and facilities, and Patria to establish ground school and synthetic training systems, including two simulators, and perform some airframe maintenance.

In addition to meeting national training needs in the absence of progress on the Advanced European Jet Pilot Training system, Tolla says third-party users are being offered access to the school, which he claims will offer "high standard, NATO-style training at competitive prices."

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