IAF proposes to build Pilatus trainers by itself

By SP's Special Correspondent January 20, 2014 Photo(s): By IAF

In a dramatic new episode to the 'trainer wars' as they should probably be known now given the weekly intrigue surrounding the IAF-HAL battle over basic trainer aircraft, the Indian Air Force has pitched a proposal to the MoD offering that is ready to license-build Pilatus PC-7 Mk.II propeller trainers at the No.5 Base Repair Depot in Sulur near Coimbatore, under the Southern Air Command. The depot, functional since 1959, has specialised in maintaining the HJT-16 Kiran intermediate trainer and HS-748 Avro medium transport of the IAF for decades, but has built up fair infrastructure to house a basic trainer production line now, IAF sources say.

Swiss firm Pilatus, which has already supplied most of the 75 trainers contracted by the IAF in 2012, has given the IAF a note of endorsement on this account, which the IAF has duly forwarded along with its pitch proposal to the MoD in order to strengthen its case. With the new Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, like his predecessor, also not keen on HAL's trainer as a result of timelines, inventory and cost economies, the DPSU, as reported earlier by SP's is still powering through with the HTT-40, with sanction from the MoD. It will be interesting to see whether the MoD clears the IAF proposal, given it is predicated on a precarious situation: a major shortfall of nearly 500 pilots, and not enough cadets in each course. Sources say a Pilatus production line can be set up at 5BRD in Sulur in about 8-10 months, with production commencing by June next year. All of this is to meet a requirement of 106 additional basic trainers to take the total fleet strength up to 181 trainers.