Kate Sarsfield/LONDON

A battle between the Royal Air Force and the UK's Department of Trade and Industry over the choice of a basic trainer aircraft to replace the RAF's fleet of Scottish Aviation Bulldog T1s has been resolved in favour of the military. The stand-off between the two sides has already led to a delay of several months in the announcement of a winning contractor.

The RAF's preference for the German-built Burkhart Grob G-115TA (rather than the UK contender Slingsby Aviation's Firefly) for its 100-aircraft requirement had previously run into stiff opposition from the President of the Board of Trade, Margaret Beckett. At one stage, Peter Mandelson, minister without portfolio and a close aide to Prime Minister Tony Blair, had taken a direct interest in the decision.

Both favour the Slingsby bid, fearful that the loss to Grob could bring into question the future of the company. Neither Government office will comment on the procurement. Slingsby managing director Jeff Bevan concedes, however, that "-there will be jobs on the brink", as a decision is made.

Military and industry sources say that the RAF's arguments that the G-115 meets its requirement better finally appear to have won the day, although it is possible that the decision could be overturned at a political level in favour of Slingsby.

A contract award is not now expected until the end of March. The previous intention had been to award the deal in November and have the contract start on 1 April.

Aircraft supply is part of a wider deal under UK Private-Finance Initiative rules which contractors FR/Serco and Shorts Support Services (renamed Bombardier Services) are bidding for. They are competing to provide up to 50,000 flying training hours a year for ten years to university air squadrons and air cadets. Provision of aircraft, engineering support, maintenance and spares are included in the bids.

The contractors are offering both aircraft types for selection. FR parent company Cobham acquired Slingsby in 1997.

York-based Slingsby has recently faced a deluge of negative publicity over the long-term grounding of the Firefly by its biggest customer, the US Air Force, after a series of fatal accidents.

Source: Flight International