Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. on Thursday sought to play down what it called speculation and comments in recent days about a purported battle of wits between itself and its prime customer — Indian Air Force — over a basic trainer aircraft meant for rookie pilots.

The issue of a basic trainer has been smoking for several months and now seems to almost blow up into an HAL vs. IAF controversy after the latter opted to import its trainer planes. Reportedly, the IAF has also chosen to buy a second lot, jeopardising HAL’s own project to make an indigenous trainer. This information, however, could not be immediately confirmed.

“The matter [of buying additional trainer planes for the IAF] is before competent authorities. HAL continues to wholeheartedly support the progress of the IAF and highly values its relationship with the IAF,” HAL’s media statement said.

The new basic trainer is at the heart of HAL’s discontent ever since the IAF grounded the 30-year-old — but still flying — trainer HPT32 Deepak in 2009. The defence public sector reportedly offered to make a new one indigenously and has even completed the design work on a two-seater HTT-40 (Hindustan Turbo Trainer). The IAF Chief has openly snubbed the project and declined to buy it on the grounds of its higher cost over import and HAL’s traditionally late supplies.

Against its requirement of 181 trainer aircraft, the IAF last year purchased 75 PC-7 MkII trainers from Swiss company Pilatus for $5.6 billion. While HAL still hopes to be in the trainer picture by making at least some of the requirement, recent reports in the media said the Air Chief had opted to buy a second lot of 37 from Pilatus.

The IAF has also reportedly recommended closing the HAL project. When asked about this, the Ministry spokesman did not react.

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