The Air Force is preparing to start a competition for a training program worth nearly seven times more than the initiative’s existing version, drawing plenty of interested contractors.

There are already nearly a dozen companies winning task orders under the existing Training Systems Acquisition II, or TSA II, program now under way. But the effort, which provides a wide range of training such as instruction on how to fly various planes and how to perform maintenance, has almost reached its $3 billion ceiling, said Steven Mihalisko, a senior Air Force analyst at Deltek, which researches the government contracting market.

A much larger group of Air Force programs — totaling nearly 40 — will be able to make orders using the new contract vehicle, which Mihalisko said will have a nearly $21 billion ceiling.

Though the Air Force has not indicated how many contracts it plans to award, there are 11 incumbents likely to throw their hats in the ring, Mihalisko said. He said they include Boeing, CAE, Cubic, Flight Safety Services, L-3 Communications, LB&B Associates, Lockheed Martin, NCI Information Systems, Rockwell Collins, Sytronics and Textron.

Mihalisko said the Air Force has streamlined the acquisition process — standardizing evaluation criteria and requesting annual capability statements to make market research move more quickly — to make sure task orders will be awarded more rapidly under the new version of the program.

About 500 of the contractors who use Deltek’s services have marked the program as one they are interested in.

Mihalisko said he anticipates a draft solicitation this month, a final solicitation by late March and a due date of late May. Deltek estimates an award around May 2013.