France's defence ministry is studying a new plan to upgrade the cockpit of the Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet trainer and keep the aircraft in service well into the next century.

A decision on whether to go ahead is likely before the end of the year, says a source at Dassault Aviation. The air force, however, may have to wait until 2002 before first deliveries because no funding for such a programme has been provided in the 1997-2002 defence spending plan.

The trainer would receive a new head-up display (HUD) and multifunction display (MFD) although there are no plans to fully digitise the electronics. The airframe, which will have been in service for 25 years by 2002, is said to have shown no sign of fatigue problems in the highest-time aircraft. This includes those in service with the Patrouille de France national display team, which has built up more high-g flying time than any other operator. If the cockpit upgrade goes ahead, French industry suppliers will compete to supply the HUD and MFD.

The air force abandoned an earlier upgrade plan, the Alpha Jet 3, as too expensive. This included a fully digital cockpit and modernised communications suite and, in one scheme, a full nav/attack and sensor operation training system.

Source: Flight International