Here is an update on current trainer aircraft market trend

trainer aircraft market trend
Italian Air Force T-346A advanced trainer jet.

According to our data, approximately 5,000 trainer aircraft are currently in operation worldwide, divided into approximately 3,000 jets and 2,000 turboprops. This market segment is destined to shrink following a strong focus of the air forces to use the same type to cover multiple training phases, with a concomitant request to reduce acquisition and operating costs. Nearly 2,500 trainers will be phased out over the next decade, offering opportunities for more players. However, the ratio of decommissioned to acquired aircraft will not be 1 to 1.

The first generation trainer aircraft will not survive beyond the end of the next decade (T-2 Buckeye, TS-11 Iskra, Saab 105, etc.); nor will most of the second generation (L-39, Alpha Jet, MB-339, IAR-99 Soim, C-101 Aviojet, etc.). However, despite this need, actual acquisitions may be relatively slow for the high-performance trainers currently on the market. While current basic and intermediate trainers are generally well positioned, modern high-performance trainer jets are struggling a bit. Turboprops cannot cover the entire advanced training/LIFT phase (although some users are attempting to do so, such as France with the PC-21) and are normally used for about half of the tasks in that phase.

Operators are therefore faced with the dilemma of sacrificing some of the advanced training capacity and transferring this task to expensive front-line fighters, or to procure two types of trainer aircraft at the same time (turboprop + jet, or basic jet + advanced jet).

The trend of the moment seems to be the first, that is to use only one type of trainer aircraft and complete the pilot training in the fighters. France, Switzerland, Sweden and probably Spain are leaning towards this option. This is the reason why some manufacturers are promoting their intermediate trainers as suitable for the entire training process. Others, on the other hand, are integrating weapons and radar on their LIFT platforms to grab a slice of the market for light combat aircraft (LCA), an example being the Leonardo M-346FA and the KAI FA-50. The demand for LCA is currently higher than that for LIFT jets, this is because many poor countries have to replace their old fighters and do not have the budget to afford 30-ton aircraft.

However, we believe this is only a temporary trend and that high-performance trainer jets will return to good sales in the years to come. Users will soon realize that eliminating the LIFT phase from flight schools will lead to a significant increase in the costs of training pilots for modern fighters. While today's intermediate trainers boast advanced features, the gap between a turboprop and an F-35 or FCAS (in the future) is too large.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Image: Italian Air Force

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