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UAE stops talks with Alenia Aermacchi on M-346 contract

Negotiations between the United Arab Emirates and Alenia Aermacchi over the possible sale of M-346 advanced jet trainers have stopped, with industry sources saying there is no word on when they might resume.

Abu Dhabi announced at IDEX 2009 that it had selected the M-346 over the Korea Aerospace Industries T-50 in its advanced jet trainer competition, with deliveries then scheduled to begin in 2012. Negotiations then began for a contract worth €1 billion ($1.37 billion) for 48 M-346s, including several in a light-attack configuration, plus flight simulators and other ground-based training systems.

Mubadala Development was to have established a local final assembly line for the type, and manufacture composite aerostructures for the civil sector.

Two years on, however, the contract has not been signed. UAE military chiefs have been saying that their focus has been on "higher priority" procurements such as existing orders for Boeing C-17 and Lockheed Martin C-130J transports, and with Airbus Military for A330 multi-role tanker transports.

Alenia Aermacchi M-346 trainer, Alenia Aermacchi
 © Alenia Aermacchi

Abu Dhabi is also assessing the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Dassault Rafale to replace its Dassault Mirage fighters.

There have also been reports that there was a misunderstanding over the aircraft's specifications, and that components wanted by the UAE were not included. Industry officials at IDEX 2011, however, say other issues have also resulted in the delay.

"Political problems that are outside my domain have resulted in the delays," says Vincenzo Giangrasso, Alenia Aermacchi's vice-president for customer services. "We still hope to overcome the situation and we just need some patience. We are pretty sure that a solution will be found shortly."

Giangrasso adds that the Italian company remains confident of concluding a deal, given that the M-346 remains the UAE air force's preferred choice. "We have discussed the technical issues with the end user, and the air force is very happy with the aircraft. The air force did a very professional job in their technical evaluation," he says.

Industry sources say that it is unlikely that a fresh tender will be called, and add that the situation just "needs a bit of time" before both parties start talking again. The door appears to remain closed to KAI and the T-50, with officials from the South Korean company agreeing.

"Obviously, we would love to get back into the competition and offer the T-50. But we have not had any discussions with the UAE officials about the T-50 since they picked the M-346, and we are not expecting that to change any time soon," says a KAI official.

Both Alenia Aermacchi and KAI, however, expect the Middle East and Gulf to remain major markets for their trainers, given the large number of fighter competitions that are going on in the region.

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