[Avionics Magazine 05-02-2016] India's aerospace and defense manufacturing sector continues to grow and expand through partnerships, new factories and research facilities. In recent months, there has been a flurry of activity in the country helping to build another one of the world's major aerospace hubs.
Air India Boeing 787. Photo: Air India.
A lot of what is driving expansion and growth of the aerospace and defense industry is the government's "Make in India" initiative, a push for airframe manufacturers to increasingly use aerospace suppliers based in the country. The initiative also aims for a certain percentage of the aircraft to be produced in India.
One company that is witnessing a rapidly expanding presence in the region, after recently establishing a new production facility in the country, is Aequs, a precision aerospace sheet metal fabrication, assembly and forging aerospace supplier for Airbus, Boeing, and other OEMs. Last year, Aequs became the first Indian-based aerospace manufacturer to expand to North America by acquiring Texas-based T&K Machine, and in February 2016 followed up with the acquisition of French landing gear and engine test manufacturing company, SIRA Group.
Aravind Melligeri, chairman and CEO of Aequs, told Avionics Magazine the company is currently focused on growing its partnership with Airbus as well.
"Aequs has a long standing relationship with Airbus and has produced detail machined parts for its single-aisle, long-range and large aircraft since 2009," said Melligeri, who believes the company is well positioned to support Airbus’ India sourcing strategy. Recently, Srinivasan Dwarakanath, Airbus India CEO, commented the company intends to source components worth $2 billion over the next five years from India.
Not to be outdone, Boeing also has continued to expand its footprint in the country in the form of the Boeing Research and Technology India Center, which is the Indian counterpart to its research and technology organization in the United States. In April, Boeing India held its third annual National Aeromodelling Competition, which attracted 215 teams and more than 670 engineering students who turned out to demonstrate their aerospace modeling skills. The competition also served to encourage young engineering professionals toward careers in aerospace.
The world's largest airframe manufacturer is also competing with Lockheed Martin to produce fighter jets in India and provide a fleet of 126 fighter jets under its Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program. In April, Boeing also awarded a contract to produce titanium forgings on the 777X to India's Bharat Forge, which already supplies titanium flap-track forgings for the Boeing 737 and will also supply forgings on the 737 MAX.
"As we see the [Aerospace and Defense] A&D industry in India growing and evolving, it has attracted major global players in the space to India. Stronger economic growth, more favorable offset policies, cost advantages, and a robust talent pool has served to increase the interest from global manufacturers. More importantly, these factors are fueling growth in the private sector whereas, traditionally, aerospace capabilities have been largely centered on the public organizations such as Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL)," said Melligeri.
Early in 2016, several large-scale projects and joint ventures also served to prove that production in both the commercial and military segments will strongly support the future of India's aerospace manufacturing sector. For example, at the Invest Karnataka 2016 summit in February, Reliance Defense Limited announced plans to launch a global aerospace technology research center in Bengaluru. Reliance also signed a cooperation agreement with Ukrainian airframe manufacturer Antonov in March to produce dual version air transport aircraft capable of supporting both military and commercial operations in India.
"Low-level tactical missions by this aircraft are aided by modern-day avionics and navigation systems powered by fly-by-wire systems in all weather round-the-clock operations. India has a requirement of over 200 medium-lift turbofan aircraft, which is the backbone of all tactical logistic Transport Support Roles (TSR) as well as Route Transport Roles (RTR) of the Air Force, Army and paramilitary forces," Reliance said in a statement accompanying the announcement of its new partnership with Antonov. The two companies also believe a medium-category aircraft such as this can address the gap in regional air transport connectivity for India to support "350 unused airstrips currently available across the country."
One area where India will need to improve in terms of growth will be Air Traffic Management (ATM) ground infrastructure modernization. Domestic air traffic in India increased by 22.9 percent in January, the highest among all countries tracked by the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) monthly air traffic report. By 2034, IATA projects India will account for 367 million air travelers.
IATA has been critical of a proposed mandate from India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) included in the draft of its National Civil Aviation Policy (NCAP) released toward the end of 2015. The mandate would require operators registering new aircraft in India beginning April 1, 2017 to equip their aircraft with GPS-Aided GEO Augmented Navigation (GAGAN)-enabled Satellite Based Augmentation System (SBAS) receivers. GAGAN is India’s satellite-based navigation system.
“The draft policy would mandate aircraft use of a particular type of technology — known as the Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) — that would bring no operational benefits beyond the existing avionics. The SBAS stipulation would therefore just add cost. And though India has made remarkable progress in many areas of air navigation, there are other aspects that would benefit from additional impetus, such as the implementation of approach procedures at instrument runways,” IATA said in an April report advocating a revision of the draft policy.
Regardless of the country’s air navigation policy, India has certainly become a major aerospace hub.
"India’s aerospace industry growth indicates that the country is rapidly building capabilities to emerge as a preferred destination to support the global A&D supply chain," said Melligeri. "With the government opening up and providing enormous opportunities to the private sector, many global and domestic players are collaborating and having joint ventures for manufacturing of aero components, Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities for civil and military aviation sectors, besides overhaul and maintenance of aero engines. India is also fast emerging as a center for engineering and design services."