Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

Chile's 10th international aerospace exhibition, FIDAE '98, comes at a time when the prospects for sales to Latin America are better than ever before. Real business will be on the agenda when exhibitors from some 30 countries meet at Santiago's Los Cerillos Airport on 23-29 March, fostered by the region's continued political stability and economic growth.

Chile itself is the best example of Latin America's growing economic muscle, and the air force's pending selection of new fighters is a leading example of the region's increasing buying power. The four contenders (the Boeing F-18, Dassault Mirage 2000, Lockheed Martin F-16 and Saab JAS39 Gripen) will lead the line-up of aircraft on display. While no announcement is expected at the show itself, a decision is imminent and could come during or soon after the prestigious Summit of the Americas, which will be staged in Santiago in April.

Each of the competitors, meanwhile, can be expected to mount a concerted effort at FIDAE '98 to sway political and public opinion in favour of their designs. They can expect to share the limelight with a substantial number of other aircraft - military and civil. The Argentine, Brazilian and Chilean air forces will be well represented, underlining the spirit of co-operation, rather than confrontation, that is being fostered between the region's armed forces. This change is responsible largely for the US decision to lift its blanket embargo on the supply of advanced weaponry to Latin America, replacing it with the case by case consideration usually afforded to other countries. This has allowed US companies to exhibit in strength at recent FIDAE shows, but is no guarantee that either the F-16 or F-18 will win in Chile.

US contractors admit that they are still working to overcome the mistrust engendered in Latin America by the only recently lifted arms embargo. Government to government assurances of continued product support will be a key factor in any decision by Chile to buy a US fighter, and in competitions pending in Brazil and, eventually, Argentina.

Lockheed Martin claims credit for marshalling the forces behind lifting the US arms embargo, but acknowledges that this does not guarantee success for the F-16. Instead, the company is taking a wider and longer term view of business opportunities in Latin America, pointing to the prospects for large scale infrastructure projects in the region, in telecommunications, airspace management and even fingerprinting -particularly as countries dismantle barriers on the road to the desired hemispheric free trade agreement. At FIDAE '98, however, attention will focus inevitably on the fighters, which this year are scheduled to include the Russian MAPO MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-27.

Peru has already acquired MiG-29s from Belarus, adding weight to neighbouring Chile's requirement to begin replacing its ageing combat aircraft, starting with its Cessna A-37s, but eventually encompassing its locally upgraded Dassault Mirages and Northrop F-5s.

FIDAE has been a predominantly military show since its inception (as FIDA) in 1980, but the civil presence has grown over the years. The 1996 show saw the regional debut of the Airbus A319, and FIDAE '98 could see the much anticipated announcement of a 100-unit order for A320-family aircraft from a consortium of three Latin American airlines, including LanChile. Airbus will display an A330-200 at this year's show, while Boeing's 777 will be making its second consecutive appearance.


Two military newcomers from opposite ends of the spectrum will make their regional debuts at FIDAE - Lockheed Martin's C-130J Hercules 2 transport and Raytheon's T-6A Texan 2 trainer. The C-130J will be on the latest leg of its world marketing tour, designed to demonstrate the upgraded aircraft to near term sales prospects. The company sees strong potential for several sales in Latin America, both of the C-130J and of its smaller companion, the C-27J under development jointly with Alenia.

Chile has already signed a letter of intent to acquire T-6As, with an order for the turboprop trainer likely to be linked to a decision to buy US fighters. The aircraft's presence at FIDAE could stir grumbling resentment at Embraer, which has blamed the decision to ditch its EMB-314 Super Tucano in favour of the T-6A for Bombardier's NATO Flying Training in Canada programme, on a dispute between the Brazilian and Canadian companies over alleged government subsidies for regional jets.

The dispute could come to a head at FIDAE, where both the Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet and Embraer RJ-145 will be on display. Brazilian and Canadian trade representatives appointed in an effort to resolve the dispute are scheduled to report by the end of March. In the event that there is no resolution, the Canadian Government has pledged to take its complaint to the World Trade Organisation. The dispute has derailed efforts by Canada to link with South America's Mercosur trading bloc, which includes Brazil.

Squabbles such as that between Brazil and Canada underline the still fragile nature of the burgeoning trade relationship between the North and South Americas. FIDAE '98 - and the regional summit that follows - looks likely to strengthen the political links, lower the market barriers and nurture the economic growth that will lead eventually to more trade.

Source: Flight International