Dassault Aviation confirms that it is "moving closer every day" to British Aerospace on joint development of combat aircraft. There is no hint of a merger, but the two are understood to have "opened the door" to a joint venture, building on a memorandum of understanding signed in 1996.

"Our aim is to encourage the governments to provide more money for the development of advanced military aircraft to compete with those from the USA," says a source close to Dassault Aviation. The work is based around technical demonstrations aimed at future aircraft to come after the Rafale and Eurofighter, and could, according to sources, lead to agreement on a joint effort the UK's Future Offensive Air System programme as the basis for the venture. This would be aimed at a Tornado GR4 and Dassault Mirage 2000N replacements and at other piloted or pilotless future attack aircraft.

The merger between Dassault Aviation and Aerospatiale, being pursued by the previous French Government, has also been raised as an issue in France, but the new administration appears lukewarm on the issue. While keen to restructure the aeronautics sector, the Government has said that it does not want to "force a marriage" between the two companies.

The previous Government had planned to privatise Aerospatiale after the merger had been achieved. This is no longer on the agenda and Dassault insists that any state component in a merged company is "contrary" to its desire for continued independence. Relations have not been improved by the Government's failure to confirm the expected multi-year order for 48 Rafale Fighters.

Source: Flight International