IAF to phase out HPT-32 trainer aircraft by 2014

A file photo of IAF Trainer HPT-32

NEW DELHI (PTI): After losing two of its experienced fighter pilot instructors in a trainer aircraft crash in July, the IAF is all set to phase out such aircrafts by 2014, Air Chief Marshal P V Naik said .

"The IAF lost two experienced instructors in a fatal crash of HPT-32 this year. We have ordered an inquiry and a study on the aircraft, as we have had a lot of problems since their induction in 1984. We hope to use it only till 2013-14," Naik told reporters here Thursday.

HPT-32 or Hindustan Piston Trainer of HAL is IAF's primary aircraft for basic fighter pilot training. Two of IAF's instructors were killed in the mishap near Medak involving this aircraft on July 31 following which the aircraft was grounded leading to a crisis in training.

"I have ordered a special study by Air Vice Marshal Pradeep Singh, an experienced fighter pilot on the problems with HPT-32. Other agencies are also involved in the study," Naik said.

As an alternative, the Air Force chief said the rookie pilots were now being trained on another indigenous HAL aircraft, the Kirans.

"This experiment of training on Kirans has been quite successful. May be, for another year-and-a-half we will continue with this. I am sure by then, we will be able to find an alternative to HPT-32 to continue training unhindered," he added.

Naik said the IAF had already initiated a global "buy" option for about 70 to 80 trainer aircraft and another "make" option for a similar number of aircraft at the HAL.

"We have progressed considerably on the proposal and we will issue a global Request for Proposal for the trainers soon and we will go through it in two or three years. I hope we will be able to tide over the crisis till then," he said.

Regarding the follow-on orders for Hawks Advanced Jet Trainers from the British aerospace major BAe Systems, Naik said there were differences of opinion between the vendor and the IAF over the price of the trainer aircraft.

"Discussions are in progress. Once they accept our point of view, the follow-on order would be issued," he said.

The IAF had ordered for 66 Hawks in 2004, two decade after it was selected as a advanced trainer for pilots, and the delivery of the trainers began last year.

A follow-on order for another 40 aircraft for the IAF was expected, but it did not materialise. Now, the IAF has issued a new Request for Information to global trainer aircraft manufacturers, looking for a new trainer, including to BAe Systems.

Asked about the problems regarding the HAL-manufactured Hawks under licence from BAe Systems, Naik said there were teething problems, which has been overcome.

"We have asked the HAL to increase their rate of production of the Hawks," he added.

To a question on possibility of women fighter pilots, Naik said though there were no such plans in the immediate future, a few years down the line, this could become a reality.

On Directorate General of Civil Aviation reporting that IAF pilots on VIP transport duties were "mission-oriented" and this could have resulted in some of the mishaps, Naik said his pilots were the most professional and that on several occasions, they had done right by refusing to fly in bad weather.

This, despite pressure from the VIP, who had to reach his destination for important meetings, he added.

Naik said when helicopter pilots encountered bad weather during flight, it was a "snap judgement" whether to continue or not and considering that helicopters usually flew in difficult terrain, the pilot's judgement had to be top class.

On reports that late Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy's pilot, a serving IAF officer, did not want to return to his parent service, the Air Force chief said several of his pilots were at present on deputation and that half of them wanted to return to IAF.

About the over 100 unused airstrips across the country that could be used by terror groups, Naik said keeping a check on them was state police's duty, though IAF did keep a watch with the nearest airbase taking up the responsibility.

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