The Brazilian Air Force may not purchase its longstanding order of 36 jet fighters as Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is unlikely to make a decision on the multibillion-dollar project before stepping down on 1 January 2011.

The purchase of jet fighters to replace Brazil’s aging fleet would cost $6bn-$8bn, which could increase further if options to expand the fleet to more than 100 aircraft are exercised.

Lula said it would be up to the government of his successor, Dilma Rousseff, to decide on the issue.

“It’s a very big debt, it’s a long-term debt for Brazil. I could sign off on it and do a deal with France, but I’m not going to do that,” Lula said, defenceWeb reports quoting media sources.

Lula’s comments have given rise to speculation that the project to modernise Brazil’s air force has likely been scrapped.

Frontrunners for the contract include the Dassault Rafale jet, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Saab Gripen.