The L-39NG is entering a large worldwide market of almost 5,000 jet and turboprop trainer aircraft. This market segment is facing a reduction in size accompanied by a strong focus on a significant increase in trainer aircraft versatility and their capability to be deployed in more training stages simultaneously, with a concurrent demand to reduce acquisition and operating costs. In the coming decade, more than 2,500 planes will be phased out. A market big enough for more than one player
As of 2018, the global jet training market consisted of 3,015 jet trainers of 26 types in active service in at least 90 countries worldwide. The oldest active planes were delivered as early as the 1960s. With many OEMs going out of business, four-fifths of these types are no longer in production and are facing difficulties with service life extension and sustaining operations. Currently only seven countries and a similar number of companies still build jet training aircraft (the Czech Republic, China, Italy, Russia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the USA). In addition to these jets at least 2,076 turboprops are operated in 53 countries worldwide for training purposes, with one-fifth of them also being used in a dual combat role. The majority of turboprop operators are also jet operators. Currently five countries (Brazil, South Korea, Switzerland, the USA and Germany) produce modern turboprops with two more countries (Poland and Serbia) with production lines on hold due to a lack of customers.
Text: Jakub Fojtík
The current global market can be segmented into the following areas:
- a) FIRST-GENERATION JET TRAINERS
This group involves very early designs such as the North American T-2 Buckeye, the PZL TS-11 Iskra or the Saab 105. Those planes are usually being flown in developed countries with difficult acquisition systems or priorities other than aviation training. Austria, Sweden and Greece may be mentioned as examples. While the first two of these countries run well established procurement processes influenced by their neutral status, in the third case the operation of extremely old planes is a result of their investment into other branches of aviation. These first-generation planes currently represent just 4% of the global jet trainer fleet.
- b) SECOND-GENERATION JET TRAINERS
This group is represented by aircraft such as the Aero L-39, the Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet, the Aermacchi MB-339, the IAR-99 Soim and the CASA C-101 Aviojet, and others. These planes will be reaching the end of their service life in the next decade or so, because the majority of them were delivered before 1990 and are reaching on average 30 years plus in service. All of them, except a few types which have undergone an upgrade, are still equipped with analogue cockpits and represent limited but at least some training value. Later designs from China (K-8) or India (HJT-36 Sitara) also belong to this group due to their technical concept. This group of planes represents some 72% of the global jet fleet.
- c) THIRD-GENERATION JET TRAINERS
This group involves later designs completed in the very late 1980s or early 1990s, such as the L-59 Fennec, IA-63 Pampa or Kawasaki T-4, and also the latest models of the BAE Hawk. The majority of these aircraft did not achieve major export success mostly as a result of the change in the global security situation in the 1990s and a chronic postponement of investment into new platforms, while maintaining existing training fleets instead. These aircraft represent only 11% of the world jet fleet.
- d) FOURTH-GENERATION JET TRAINERS
This group represents the latest jet designs such as the M346 Master, Hongdu L-15, Yakovlev Yak-130, L-159 and the T-50 Golden Eagle. All these aircraft were completed in the 1990s and are still available. Curiously enough, three of them (the M346, Yak-130 and L-15) are based on the same aerodynamic concept. This category will be significantly extended by the US T-X tender winner. All these aircraft can be characterised as high-performance trainers. They represent 13% of the world jet fleet.
- e) FIRST-GENERATION TURBOPROP TRAINERS
This group is represented by the Embraer EMB-312 Tucano and Pilatus PC-7 aircraft, which both belong to the first turboprop generation introduced into mass service. These aircraft are nearing the end of their service life and will be replaced. They represent 30% of the world turboprop fleet.
- f) SECOND-GENERATION TURBOPROP TRAINERS
These include all remaining turboprops starting with the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, the Pilatus PC-9 and PC-21, the KAI KT-01 Woongbi, the Aermacchi M-290 RediGO, the Beechcraft AT-6 Texan II, the UTVA Lasta 95 and the PZL Orlik and Grob 120TP. These planes, representing some 70% of the world turboprop market, still have significant remaining service life.
As can be seen from the data above, of the 3,015 jet trainers in the world almost 80% will need to be replaced, as will some 30% of the 2,076 turboprops. The first-generation jet & turboprop aircraft will not survive beyond the end of the next decade; nor will the majority of second-generation jet trainers. This creates huge pressure on producers to fulfil the market need for trainer aircraft. Nevertheless, in spite of this need, actual acquisitions may be relatively slow for the high-performance trainers currently in production. The current older trainers are usually well positioned in the basic and advanced stages of training, while the majority of high-performance jet trainers in production are focused on the advanced and higher stages (LIFT). Turboprops cannot cover all the of the advanced stage (although some attempts occur, such as with the PC-21 in France) and are normally utilised for some half of that stage’s tasks. Operators are therefore facing the dilemma of either sacrificing part of their advanced training stage capabilities (and transferring those to costly fighter aircraft), or procuring two training aircraft types at the same time (turboprop + jet, or low-end and high-end jet). This discrepancy between market needs and manufacturers´ capabilities has led to the decision to launch several new designs such as the L-39NG and M345 which may be characterised as mid-class aeroplanes fully able to replace turboprops and also to replicate most of the capabilities of high-performance jet trainers. These planes are not intended to cover 100% of the LIFT phase, but due to on-board simulation and interconnection they can provide a reasonable compromise, covering the majority of tasks in all training stages with an extremely strong position in basic and advanced training, thus eliminating the need to introduce a turboprop into the syllabus. In practice, they go against the trend of recent decades, where high-performance capabilities (high engine thrust, high angle of attack, high-g sustained load factor) were prioritized with little care for increased operational and acquisition costs. Neither of the aforementioned mid-class trainers has yet to be delivered to its first customer, but it is clear they may provide an answer for many global operators.
The limited potential for high-performance trainers is clearly visible. In despite of three decades of marketing they still represent only 11% of the market and probably will not even double this figure when the new US training aircraft is calculated in. The Saab-Boeing T-X tender winner may be a true game-changer. Many air forces have adopted the F-35 fighter, for which a dual-seat training variant does not exist, and current trainers do not fit the role due to non-compliant avionics and systems. All F-35 operators will surely seek an extension of the current system under which their pilots are trained in the US (for example, pilots from Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands…). But the question is whether the US Air Force will be able to satisfy such a demand. With fewer and fewer legacy T-38s in operation and the T-X planes only due to enter service after 2020, with initial operational clearance in 2024, the USAF will surely be short of training capacity for its own pilots. The question is how the F-35 operators will react: one of the likely scenarios is the choice of high-performance trainers as an interim solution (either the Saab Boeing T-X co-tenders such as M346 and T-50 or the T-X directly).
One of the common approaches in the military world, clearly visible in transport aviation and logistics, is the pooling and sharing or outsourcing of capabilities which are lacking. Several world training centres are providing various stages of training in order to provide training capability to operators who are unable to arrange the acquisition of their own trainers. With the most comprehensive capabilities proposed by Canadian CAE company operating centre at Cold Lake in Canada, the Italian centre at Lecce-Galatina run by Italian aeroplane maker Leonardo together with the local Air Force, and the Pardubice-based Centrum leteckého výcviku (CLV) run by the LOM PRAHA state enterprise, operators have several options for their choice. These providers may now present a strategic capability allowing the bridging of any short- or medium-term need for training, offering not only the aircraft, but a whole training concept including simulators and tactical training capability. Especially in the short-term or for low-budget countries, such a leased service may be the only choice allowing them to continue military training. With knowledge of this market gap, companies such as Portugal-based SkyTech have recently started to propose a wide variety of training scenarios including the leasing of whole training fleets. Given the formal difficulties accompanying the majority of acquisition tenders the leasing or buying of service will surely increase in importance.
It is irrelevant to define the market competitors for the L-39NG, because for the majority of operators the competitors cannot provide the same coverage of the training syllabus. It is the overall training and acquisition concept which matters, and not the plane itself. In this, the L-39NG has entered the market in a strong position, with broad cooperation with CLV and SkyTech permitting a variety of solutions for every operator to pick from. As of now, in terms of versatility of training capability and complexity of proposed services, the L-39NG presents the most attractive solution allowing anything from buying of service through dry lease and wet lease up to classic acquisition. Such variety, if well marketed, may be a key element of market success. This is even more true in a situation when the L-39NG may naturally replace some 250 legacy L-39s (the remaining operational L-39s are in embargoed countries). Many of the competitors are obviously following the same logic. Therefore, the unique position the L-39NG now possesses will definitely not last for ever and depends on the early launch of full-scale serial production.