Andrea Spinelli/GENOA

THE ITALIAN air force is considering slashing the number of European Future Large Aircraft (FLA) it intends to procure in favour of an early purchase of the Lockheed C-130J Hercules 2.

The air force has a study under way into its future transport requirement amid growing disquiet over the serviceability of its existing C-130Hs, and its ability to fund a purchase of 60 FLA transports.

A total of 12 Lockheed C-130Hs, is operated by the air force, but the Hercules fleet is plagued by poor availability. Senior sources say that often only four of the aircraft are service-ready.

An Italian decision to halve the number of FLAs it might purchase would have a detrimental impact on Italian industry and Government participation in the project.

Alenia has aspirations to carry out final assembly of the aircraft, but an Italian final production line for the FLA is looking increasingly unlikely in the face of Airbus ambitions to build the aircraft at one of its two assembly sites in Germany and France.

The air force study was spurred by the recognition that, in the present economic environment, the air force could not afford to purchase or operate a 60-strong fleet of the FLA.

The study, say senior Government officials, proposes cutting the overall transport fleet to 50 aircraft: a mix of the C-130Js and another larger transport, for which the FLA will be the leading candidate.

Details of the study leaked to Flight International suggest that the air force will pursue buying up to 20 C-130Js, beginning as early as 1996/7, with a delivery rate of three aircraft a year.

As well as purchasing the C-130J, the air force also wants to carry out an austere upgrade of its 12 C-103Hs, to improve reliability.

The plan advocates the gradual retirement of the C-130Hs as the C-130Js begin to enter service. The twin-turboprop Alenia G.222, which now forms the backbone of the air force's transport capability, would also be largely retired.

The air force recommendations have yet to be discussed, by the Italian armed forces joint chiefs of staff, before being submitted for parliamentary approval.

A potential air force purchase of the C-130J is already understood to be under discussion at an industrial level between Lockheed Martin and Alenia.

The Royal Air Force recently adopted a similar plan to the one proposed by the Italian air force, opting to become the launch customer for the C-130J while agreeing, subject to several caveats, to later acquire the FLA.

Source: Flight International