A Curtain-Raiser

Over the last decade, Aero India has grown in stature and has carved a niche for itself in the world as a premier aerospace exhibition

Issue: 2 / 2017By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)Photo(s): By Karthik Kumar / SP Guide Pubns
Armed version of Dhruv, Rudra, flying over Yelahanka in Bengaluru before Aero India 2017

The 11th edition of the Aero India International Air Show and Aviation Exhibition is scheduled to be held from February 14 to 18, 2017, at the Indian Air Force (IAF) airbase at Yelahanka located on the northern outskirts of Bengaluru. The event is organised by the Defence Exhibition Organisation (DEO) under the Ministry of Defence Production in collaboration with the IAF, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Department of Space. This event is rated as the largest air show in Asia and the second largest in the world after the Paris air show. The Government of Karnataka is the co-host for Aero India 2017 and has deputed a senior functionary of the government of the rank of Secretary to coordinate with the DEO, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the IAF.

Historical Background

The genesis of Aero India can be traced back to a period a decadeand-a-half ago. In the wake of economic liberalisation initiated in June 1991 by the then P.V. Narasimha Rao government, a company in the private sector organised an aviation exhibition in 1992 at Hotel Ashoka in New Delhi. The company also managed to position a lone Sukhoi-27 aircraft on static display at the Air Force Station in Palam. With some help from the IAF, the company managed to put up a brief flying display by the Russian fighter aircraft which proved to be the icing on the cake for both civilian and military spectators alike. Encouraged by the overall response, the company organised another air show a year later at the Air Force Station in Yelahanka. Christened as Avia India 1993, this second attempt was on a much larger scale. Despite the lack of infrastructure as well as other limitations, deficiencies and impediments, response by the industry and the public was fairly encouraging. The high point of the air show was an enthralling aerobatic display by a Mirage 2000 combat aircraft of the French Air Force.

It was only after two attempts by a private company to organise an air show that the MoD stepped in and decided to take over this event. Renamed as Aero India, the MoD planned to host this international event every two years, the first two editions being staged in December 1996 and 1998. However, as the event in 1998 was marred by rainy weather, it was decided to organise the air show in February instead of December. Hence the third edition of the event was held in February 2001. Thereafter, the event has been held every two years with unfailing regularity.

The last edition, i.e. the tenth edition of the air show designated as Aero India 2015, was held at Yelahanka from February 18 to 22. The fact that the event was inaugurated personally by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was of significance as his presence provided the much needed impetus to the newly introduced ‘Make in India’ programme which was the high point of the event. The participants at Aero India 2015 hailed from 33 countries and included a total of 644 companies which consisted of 326 from overseas and 318 from the Indian aerospace and defence industry. The air show also hosted 46 trade delegations from across the world. The exhibition area was 44 per cent larger than that of the previous edition of the event in 2013.

Hawk AJT aircraft of Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team rehearsing for the show at Yelahanka

The Event in 2017

In his address at Aero India 2015, the Minister of Defence, Manohar Parrikar did not talk about the schedule for Aero India 2017, as had been customary. This led to an air of uncertainty in the aerospace and defence community about the venue for Aero India 2017. The anxiety in the community was further intensified when Defexpo 2016 was shifted to Goa. It has been a matter of immense relief for all that the venue of this prestigious event has remained unchanged this year. Hopefully, it will continue to be so in the future as well.

Over the last decade, Aero India has grown in stature and size and has carved a niche for itself in the world as a premier aerospace exhibition. As has been the case with the past editions of the air show, Aero India 2017 will provide an excellent platform to both global and Indian firms in the aerospace and defence industry for exploiting business opportunities. On account of the rapid growth of the Indian economy, the ongoing drive at modernisation of the aviation wings of the Indian armed forces, encouraging reforms in foreign direct investment in the defence and aerospace industry, increasing involvement of the private sector in the defence and aerospace manufacturing as well as the powerful thrust to the ‘Make in India’ campaign by the Modiled government, a vast array of opportunities in the Indian aerospace and defence industry await all players across the globe, large or small. In fact, India has become an Asian hub-centre for aerospace and defence industry. This year too, Prime Minister Modi is expected to inaugurate the air show which undoubtedly be infinitely inspiring for the industry. However, what is expected to add a new dimension to the growth trajectory of the industry is the fact that the United States has legally upgraded the status of India as a “major defence partner of the US”. This is bound to open up fresh avenues for American companies to foray into the Indian aerospace and defence market.

Seminar Preceding the Air Show

Prior to the air show at Yelahanka, the DRDO along with the Aeronautical Society of India is organising a three-day Aero India International Seminar from February 12 to 14, 2017. The theme of the Seminar is “Aerospace: Technology Collaboration and Self-Reliance.” The seminar provides a platform for interaction amongst professionals from the aerospace industry from across the world. The sessions are expected to be mutually beneficial and which could sow the seeds for a sustained, continuous and fruitful global collaboration. India’s growth in aerospace technologies, complemented by its expanding economy, makes Aero India 2017 an ideal platform to nurture the interests of aerospace further. The success of any aerospace design ultimately depends on the capability of the industry to translate it into a successful product.

PARTICIPATION BY GLOBAL AEROSPACE MAJORS IN AERO INDIA IS DRIVEN TO A LARGE EXTENT BY MARKET DEMAND IN INDIA AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR BUSINESS

Participation

As compared to the 644 companies that participated in the tenth edition of the air show, expectations are that this year, there will be around 425 companies, including both foreign and domestic, represented at the air show. Apart from most of the aerospace majors across the globe, important visitors from abroad are expected to include ministerial delegations, heads of military establishments and secretary level delegations. More than 1,50,000 business visitors and 3,00,000 general visitors are expected at the venue over the five days of the air show. In all, 109 countries across the globe are expected to participate representing a more global involvement over Aero India 2015. Participation by global aerospace majors in Aero India is driven to a large extent by market demand in India and opportunities for business. For Aero India 2017, the proposal floated last year by the government to some of the global aerospace majors for the production of single-engine and possibly twin-engine combat aircraft in large numbers under the ‘Make in India’ programme for both the domestic and international markets, will certainly be a major attraction.

Light Combat Aircraft Tejas will be one of the leading displays at the show

Global aerospace majors expected to be present with their offerings are Dassault Rafale (36 have been ordered for IAF; a potential contender for future twin-engine programmes), Lockheed Martin of the US with the F-16 Fighting Falcon, Boeing Company of the US with the F/A-18 Super Hornet and Sukhoi of Russia with the Su-35. Boeing may also showcase the KC-46 Pegasus flight refuelling aircraft the procurement of which for the IAF is on the anvil. Airbus may also showcase the C295 twin-engine military transport aircraft that has been selected by the IAF as replacement for the ageing fleet of Avro HS-748. The aerospace majors of the Indian aerospace industry in the private sector such as Reliance Defence and Aerospace, Mahindra Aerospace and Tata Advanced Systems Limited and all others who aspire to partner the selected companies from abroad for indigenous manufacture, are also expected to be present in a big way.

On the domestic front, the Indian aerospace major the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will showcase the light combat aircraft Tejas Mk I which was inducted into the IAF on July 1, 2016. HAL is also expected to put up on static and flying display the indigenous turboprop basic trainer aircraft, the HTT-40, weaponised version of the advanced light helicopter Dhruv and the light combat helicopter. But most importantly, HAL will showcase its latest success by way of the indigenously upgraded Hawk 132-i advanced jet trainer aircraft.

On the business aviation front, Dassault’s new flagship, the Falcon 8X, is expected to make its India debut at Aero India 2017. Recently certified, with deliveries under way, this remarkable ultra-long range 8X is now in full production. It will bring with it industryleading technologies, the roomiest cabin in the Falcon family, and the legendary engineering the world expects from Dassault.