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View from India: Dreams soar high at Aero India Show

This week Bangalore plays host to the biennial Aero India show. Into its 11th edition, the event has evolved into an international show on aerospace, defence, civil aviation, airport infrastructure and defence engineering. As Asia’s premier air show, it showcases the aerial prowess of the country.

The aerospace industry in all its totality has been brought under one roof. Appropriately Bangalore has been the host city all along as Karnataka, of which it is the state capital, is a pioneer in the aerospace sector. Karnataka has seen 33 projects worth over Rs 15,000 crore (150bn rupees, £1.8bn) in the aerospace sector since the 2013 Aero India show.

The audience is euphoric as jet-powered Hawks and fighter jet engines roar and soar high in the skies. The aerobatic performances look like a scene out of a sci-fi film besides being Instagram-worthy. But more significantly, the Indian space research community and the country at large are ecstatic as Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) the primary space agency of the Indian government, creates aviation history.

ISRO launched 104 satellites in single shot at Aero India 2017. Over six months of planning has gone into the making of this historic mission, witnessed by over 750 global and Indian companies at the event. ISRO’s feat has strengthened India’s position commercially in global space-based surveillance and communication.

There are other highlights. The Surya Kiran Team makes a comeback after six years. There’s also the Rafale fighter jets and HAL’s Light Utility Helicopter apart from Swedish Gripen and American F-16 fighters, to watch out for.

At a global level, the presence of a Chinese delegation marks China’s debut at the Aero Show 2017, though strictly speaking, China is not flying at the event.

Aero India 2017 aims to create an easy climate for investments. The Ministry of Defence aims to offer a defence ecosystem conducive for business.

Till now, defence procurement has been channelled through Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU). But ever since the Prime Minister Narendra Modi envisioned Make in India 2.5 years ago, the defence sector is undergoing a paradigm shift as it gradually moves towards mainstream manufacturing. When the sector becomes fully mainstream it is expected to open up direct and indirect employment for millions of individuals. With mainstream production, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) can manufacture components required for the defence sector.

In order to encourage start-ups to design and develop in India, a Defence Innovative Fund has been established, with initial funding from defence public sector undertakings Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). A time has come when we need to consolidate our efforts and turn towards our domestic market and encourage vendors to become part of the supply chain instead of completely relying on global aero procurements. On the other hand, the domestic industry can become viable through the support of the export market. Offsets as a vertical lends itself to the export aero market.

Karnataka is a front-runner in the aviation sector. The Karnataka Aerospace Policy 2013-23 has helped position the state as a favourable destination for maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) investments. In the amended policy, MRO centres will be developed using a cluster approach for locations like Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore and Tumkur.

Bangalore Aerospace Park at Devanahalli and an Aerospace Common Finishing Facility (ACFF) are among forthcoming attractions in Bangalore. MRO Centres are on in Mysore. The HAL Helicopters Project is being built in Tumkur, while a defence manufacturing cluster at Mangalore is on the cards.

Intelligent infrastructure and cross-innovation are among the factors that have encouraged multinationals to set up base in Bangalore and forge aerospace alliances. Besides HAL, GE Aerospace, UTC Aerospace, Mahindra Aerospace and Boeing R&D Centre are among the companies that established base in Bangalore and have contributed towards Karnataka’s growth in the aviation map of India.

While Karnataka is known for its silk and cotton industries, many of these textile industries are weaving a different story, as they are researching on innovative textiles to cater to the aero industry. This is expected to generate a new employment base.

When you look back at Karnataka’s Aerospace history, rockets became weapons in Indian warfare in our state. The technology was popularised around late 1700s by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore. Globally, they are credited with innovating iron-cased metal cylinder rockets.

Aero India 2017, India’s largest aerospace and defence expo, is being organised by the Defence Exhibition Organisation. The event, which is being held at the Yelahanka Air Base in Bangalore from February 14-18, has had a footfall of around 200,000 business visitors.

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