Portugal close to open an international flight training school

Portugal Leonardo M346 training school
Leonardo M-346 advanced jet trainer.

The establishment of an international military pilot training school is becoming part of the plan of many nations today. Following the introduction of modern combat aircraft by most NATO members, pilot training is acquiring an increasingly central role within the Western armed forces.

As well as Italy and Greece, Portugal has also recently begun to consider training national and international fighter pilots at home. The nation is looking at a partnership with a private firm to contract out the purchase of the training systems, with an agreement similar to that signed between Athens and Elbit Systems.

"We intend to establish an international pilot training school through an agreement between private partners, the Portuguese Air Force and NATO allies," Portuguese Defense Minister Joao Gomes Cravinho said.

Portugal's plan aims to involve those European nations in the project that are modernizing their combat aircraft fleet, but lack the resources to train their pilots at home.

"Several European NATO member countries need to renew their fleets. Countries like Portugal, Belgium, Denmark or the Netherlands cannot afford to run a local pilot training school. Our idea, shared with these parties, is to join forces and avoid pilots having to cross the Atlantic to train in the United States or Canada. This project is quite advanced and will be established at the Beja air base, a city south of Portugal where the sky is blue 300 days a year, a very important factor for training," Cravinho said.

Portugal Super Tucano training school
Embraer EMB-314 turboprop trainer aircraft. 

The minister has not given details about the type of systems that will be used, however, according to the recent moves of the nation, Portugal could select the Embraer Super Tucano, or the Leonardo M-346. It is also possible that both types will be introduced in order to cover more phases of training: the Super Tucano for phase II and III and the M-346 for the more advanced phase IV (Lead-in fighter training - LIFT). The two aircraft were recently included in the SkyTech website which is the Portuguese private company to which the project will probably be contracted.

The choice of the Super Tucano could be favored by the presence in the country of the OMGA company which in 2005 was acquired by Embraer to be used as the main MRO (Maintenance Services Center) for its systems in service in NATO countries, Super Tucano included. On the other side, the Portuguese Air Force believes that the M-346 is the best choice for effectively training pilots for fifth generation fighters.

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Written by Matteo Sanzani
Photo Credits: Italian Air Force, Embraer

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