Acquisition of ex-New Zealand Aermacchi MB339CDs to proceed after long delay

Malaysia has approved the long-delayed purchase of 17 ex-Royal New Zealand Air Force Aermacchi MB339CD trainers, but has opted against a controversial lease deal.

Industry sources say Malaysia's finance ministry approved the $70 million transaction this month but Ernst & Young, which New Zealand hired to remarket the aircraft after axeing its air-combat wing in 2001, is still awaiting formal notification.

Malaysia's defence ministry, looking to solve a deficiency in jet trainers, tentatively accepted New Zealand's offer early last year. But completion of the deal was delayed pending finance ministry approval as the government debated whether to lease the aircraft or acquire them directly. A change in administration also slowed the process.

New Malaysian company Peatric, partnered with the Transmile Group, has bid to acquire and lease back the 17 aircraft, and upgrade Malaysia's existing fleet of eight MB339ABs and service the expanded fleet of 25 aircraft. But Malaysian maintenance firm Airod, which already maintains the MB339ABs and lobbied against the Peatric proposal, expects to be awarded a contract for MB339CD maintenance.

Upgrade work on the MB339AB fleet is no longer anticipated, at least in the short term. Manufacturers believe the expansion of the MB339 fleet is a short-term fix for Malaysia's current trainer shortage and expect the air force to select a new advanced trainer within five years.

Aermacchi, BAE Systems, Korea Aerospace Industries and Pilatus have already begun pitching Malaysia their high-end trainers. Malaysia now uses eight MB339ABs and 23 BAE Hawks for intermediate and advanced training. But this fleet has proved to be 10-20 aircraft too small, resulting in a shortage of fighter pilots and leaving many pilots inadequately trained and contributing to an unimpressive safety record. Manufacturers believe Malaysia will require even more trainers as 18 new Sukhoi Su-30s are delivered from 2006.

Although the Royal New Zealand Air Force scrapped its combat wing three years ago, it has continued to fly the MB339CDs occasionally to keep them in operational condition.


Source: Flight International