The outcome of a two-tier competition in the United Arab Emirates could set the tone for several other battles over the next few years, with selections to be made between the Alenia Aermacchi M-311 or Pilatus PC-21 basic and Alenia Aermacchi M-346 or Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T-50 advanced jet trainers. Embraer's EMB-314 Super Tucano and BAE Systems' Hawk 128 have been eliminated from the contest, which seeks a combined fleet of up to 64 aircraft.

In an indication of his company's concern over the growing South Korean orderbook for the T-50, Alenia Aermacchi chief executive Carmelo Cosentino used the 11-15 November Dubai air show to attack the design as too heavy and not cost-effective, and to question the suitability of using a single-engined aircraft for advanced training.

But the KAI/Lockheed team says the Golden Eagle has reduced training costs in South Korea by over 30% and cut sortie numbers by 20% since its introduction to service. Twenty of the 72 T-50s ordered are now in use, and the air force plans to add 10 aerobatic display examples and 60 T/A-50 light attack aircraft by early next year.

Italy recently approved a launch order for 15 M-346s, with the type also the lead candidate to deliver the AJT element of the proposed Eurotraining initiative, which has failed to make concrete progress during 2007.

The M-311 continues to search for its first buyer: a factor which could rule against it in the UAE. Pilots recently began training on the Swiss air force's first PC-21s, also on order for Singapore, which will launch its AJT contest involving the Hawk, M-346 and T-50 during 2008.

Alenia Aermacchi and KAI/Lockheed also used the Dubai show to promote their designs' potential for use as light attack aircraft, and to suggest that they could meet a perceived US Air Force requirement to replace the supersonic Northrop T-38.

Despite its failure in the UAE, BAE says the Hawk could secure near-term sales in Bahrain, Greece and with the Indian navy, while sources say Qatar "is interested in British training and doctrine".

Russia's air force has cleared the Yakovlev Yak-130 advanced trainer for operational use, and Algeria's first of 16 examples will fly for the first time in late 2008.

Source: Flight International