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Qinetiq outlines basic trainer, helicopter purchase plans

Qinetiq will build on its recent order for two Pilatus PC-21s by finalising deals in 2017 for new basic trainers and single-turbine helicopters to be used by the Empire Test Pilots’ School (ETPS).

Announced on 4 January, the PC-21 represents the first part of a wider fleet modernisation activity being undertaken following a “ground-up review”, says Nick Lay, Qinetiq’s head of business development for test aircrew training. The company in December 2016 secured an additional £1 billion ($1.2 billion) to support its long-term partnering agreement with the UK Ministry of Defence, with part of this sum enabling it to advance its aircraft purchase plans.

The Swiss-built PC-21s will be in use from 2019 to replace a combined eight BAE Systems Hawk T1s and Dassault Alpha Jets. Qinetiq is also seeking to retire a pair of Shorts Tucano basic trainers and four Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopters, used to support the test pilot and flight-test engineer training activities of ETPS.

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Lay says procurement plans call for the acquisition of two basic turboprop trainers and four single-turbine helicopters. “Those aircraft are in the process of down-selection, and we will be placing orders this year,” he says, but declines to identify candidate types.

The additions will support the school’s evolution – which includes plans to deliver civilian test-pilot training under new European Aviation Safety Agency rules. The company is “well into” the approvals process with the UK Civil Aviation Authority to provide such instruction, Lay says.

Qinetiq will be retaining the remainder of its existing fixed-wing inventory, which includes one Diamond DA42 and a BAe Avro RJ100 in current use, plus an RJ70 that will soon be available, with work to add its flight test instrumentation already completed.

The use of third-party aircraft also will remain central to the ETPS programme, Lay says. Students currently gain access to a variable stability-adapted Bombardier Learjet, provided by Calspan, and also fly a Gripen D as part of their one-year course, under a long-term arrangement with Saab. The latter will remain “the cornerstone of our fast jet training,” Lay says.

“We see a mix of a core Qinetiq fleet, augmented by types like the Gripen and Learjet, to provide flexibility as needs change,” he says. Its acquisitions will enable it to pursue a long-planned growth in student numbers, which currently range between 20 and 23 per year, and enable it to accommodate more export customers. “With the new aircraft types we are certainly not capacity limited,” he notes.

Lay says the newly-acquired types will have a dramatic effect on the average age of the Qinetiq fleet, which will fall from the current 29 years to eight in 2018.

Qinetiq’s PC-21s will be delivered during 2018 and initially used for instructor training and syllabus preparation, before supporting the ETPS course starting the following year. Lay says use of the school’s Alpha Jets and Hawks will conclude at the end of the 2018 course.