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French funding boosts trainer hopes for MiG

MARK PILLING

The MiG-AT jet trainer programme got a major boost here yesterday with the revelation that the French Government had agreed to extend Fr400 million ($55 million) in credit to the Russian military aircraft design bureau. The facility is part of a larger package just agreed between France and Russia.

The money will be used to pay for the engines and avionics being provided by MiG¹s Western partners in the project, Snecma and Thales Avionics, to complete the 15 aircraft in the first production batch.

It will enable MiG to begin production of the two-seat trainer immediately on receiving the first orders, said Igor Amosov, executive secretary of the MiG-AT co-ordination council. There are already 12 aircraft under assembly in anticipation of launch orders, he added.

The MiG-AT is being proposed to meet the Greek requirement for new trainers, but it is believed its best chance could be in India, which has a large fleet of MiG-29s and whose selection of the Hawk is in doubt after the Indian Minister of Defence was caught up in a corruption scandal.

Other target markets are South America and the Middle East, said Thierry Hurtes, military engines export sales director of Snecma. The potential market is estimated at 1,500 aircraft, and the partners were aiming to capture a 25% share of it, he said.

The aircraft would fit with the Russian Air Force's training requirements if it was to take delivery of any future fifth-generation Russian front-line fighter, said MiG director-general Nikolai Nikitin.

The minimum number of orders needed to launch the AT is 50, he said, and first deliveries could start 15-18 months after full programme go-ahead.

The main priority is to obtain full Russian certification for the MiG-AT. At Le Bourget in 1999 MiG announced it had obtained preliminary certification from the Russian Air Force. Since then the Russian and French certification authorities have been preparing a joint "Russian/international" certification programme that Nikitin hopes will begin in September.

Certification

This will involve 370 test flights. It is hoped the aircraft will obtain final certification by the end of 2002.Thales was providing its Topflight avionics suite for the MiG-AT, said marketing director Marc Sorel. Its share of the project is 15% for an aircraft with the basic avionics, but that could rise if the customer selected a more advanced suite, he said. Thales has invested $12 million in the project so far, and expects another $8 million to be spent to achieve certification.

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