India will expedite the procurement of the Swiss Pilatus PC-7 Mk. 2 trainer and the Indian air force (IAF) will begin training courses on the new turboprop aircraft starting in July 2013, the country’s defense minister says.

The contract for 75 trainers, signed in May, is worth more than 500 million Swiss francs ($520 million). Deliveries will begin in February 2013 and last until August 2015.

The PC-7 is a low-wing, tandem-seat training aircraft, capable of all basic training functions including aerobatics, instrument, tactical and night flying. It will replace the 1988-vintage, single-piston-engine HPT-32s, which were grounded in 2009 following a series of fatal crashes.

Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony points out that training standards for its young fighter personnel is an area of “serious concern.” The air force is currently training its young pilots on the Kiran Mk. 2, an intermediate jet trainer. “To make up for the deficiencies of training resources, the availability of Kiran aircraft is being enhanced to strengthen the foundation training of ab-initio pilots,” Antony says.

He says prior to the Pilatus training, the IAF has been directed to fast track an inquiry into the mishaps to minimize the possibility of future accidents.

The IAF has lost 33 combat jets and 12 helicopters in the past four years. Thirty-five defense officials, including 13 pilots, have lost their lives in these accidents.

Antony says there is an urgent need to focus on category-1 aircraft accidents “in which the aircraft is destroyed or damaged beyond economical repair, [is] missing or the cost of repair, excluding damage to aero-engines, exceeds 50% of the total cost.”

The government also has plans to phase out aging MiG fighters. “Non-upgraded MiG-27 and MiG-21 are being phased out progressively by March 2016 and March 2018, respectively,” Antony says.

Photo: Pilatus PC-12