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View from India: Metal birds dazzle skies at Aero India show

The country showcases its aero defence prowess at the Aero India show. Along with the aero-defence Make in India fleet, international collaborations and spectacular air shows are among the attractions that aviation enthusiasts can look forward to.

The 14th edition of Aero India - Asia’s largest aerospace expo - has begun amidst fanfare at the Yelahanka Air Force Station in Bengaluru.

National and international aerospace and defence companies are exhibiting their best indigenous aircraft carriers that are sleek in design and aerodynamically superior. Indoor pavilions are sporting their scaled-down versions, while the actual ones are taking to the skies. Fighter jets roar in full throttle as they seemingly disappear into the air. The supersonic speed and velocity of the metal birds is mind-blowing.

“Globally, 75 countries are using India’s defence capabilities. Our country’s arms exports have grown to $1.5bn during FY 2021-22. The Aero India show has broken past records. The participation of over 700 global and domestic exhibitors proves that our defence technology is scalable and cost effective,” said prime minister Narendra Modi, inaugurating the event. The inaugural speech was also telecast on Modi’s official YouTube channel.  

The Indian Air Force (IAF) fleet and Indian Navy’s aircrafts are taking to the skies. The Suryakiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT) of the IAF deserves mention. The portfolio of offerings from the Indian defence sector will throw light on progressive design and futuristic technologies. The India Pavilion will feature LCA-Tejas aircraft in final operational clearance (FOC) configuration. Light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas is a single engine, light-weight, highly agile, multi-role supersonic fighter. Fixed-wing platform is the theme of the India Pavilion to depict the country’s achievements in the fixed wing realm.

Fifteen helicopters are also being presented from defence public sector unit Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). What could be compelling is that these helicopters will be aligned in such a way to depict a unique ‘Aatmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) formation flight. HAL is also putting up a scale model of Hindustan Lead-in Fighter Trainer (HLFT-42), the next-gen supersonic trainer.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) - responsible for developing technology for military use - is presenting 330 indigenously built products and technology categorised into various zones, such as missiles and strategic systems, combat aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), airborne surveillance systems and artificial intelligence machine learning and cyber systems, among others.

At the event, Airbus has planned to host a public ‘meet-and-greet’ event to recruit engineering and IT talent. The talent scouting event at Aero India is part of Airbus’ ramp-up for 2023, when it intends to recruit more than 13,000 people globally. The new hires will be instrumental in supporting Airbus’ industrial ramp-up, its ambitious decarbonisation roadmap and preparations for the future of aviation.

The company is also displaying its commercial, helicopters and defence and space aircrafts at the Aero India show. The stand will display scale models of the new-generation tanker A330 MRTT, alongside the C295 military aircraft that the company will build under its ‘Make in India’ programme with its industrial partner, Tata Advanced Systems Ltd, in Gujarat. It also includes digital displays of the earth observation satellite, the Pléiades Neo, OneAtlas that provides premium satellite imagery, and Sirtap, a tactical unmanned aerial system (UAS).

Similarly, Boeing in India plans to strengthen and tap local engineering-research talent and its growing network of over 300 supplier partners. Investments will be towards scaling-up local services and capabilities. Partnerships could also be forged to take forward India's goal of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ or ‘self reliant India’. At the Aero India show, visitors may experience the company’s AH-64 Apache simulator and learn more about the combat helicopter’s capabilities and wide range of missions. 

Participants from around 98 countries will grace the event. Some of the participants such as the US defence major Lockheed Martin, Rolls Royce, Dassault Aviation and Israel Aerospace Industry are exhibiting their aero-defence jets. The presence of global leaders and investors is expected to open up aero-defence avenues and industrial partnerships, besides reinforcing the vision of ‘Make in India, Make for the World’.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has indicated that the event may lead to 251 memorandums of understanding (MoU) with an expected investment of ₹75,000 crore. The country is poised to be a hub for the production of manufacturing of military aircraft, equipment and avionics. Extensive R&D could happen in propelling forward state-of-the art mission avionics and sensors, apart from exploring new vistas in military hardware and other technologies. The event may be a networking platform for local micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and aero start-ups to connect with global companies. 

Aero India, with its theme of the ‘Runway to a Billion Opportunities’, is being held in Bengaluru from February 13 to 17. The last two days of the biennial air show are open for the public to witness aircrafts that will dazzle the skies in full throttle. Agreeably, it’s a jaw-dropping aerial show out there.

“Aero India 2023 is a special edition in terms of size, performance and exhibits. India has proved its capability in the defence sector. Around 65 per cent of India’s defence aircrafts and helicopters is from Karnataka. The state’s 2022-27 aerospace and defence policies is projected to employ over 45,000 young professionals in the next five years,” added Basavaraj Bommai, chief minister of Karnataka.

When we look at the aviation scenario across India, what comes to mind is the government’s recent announcement to revive old, unused airstrips throughout the nation. “Fifty additional airports, heliports, water aerodromes and advanced landing grounds will be revived for improving regional air connectivity,” said union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her Budget Speech recently. The country has already opened up the skies for seaplanes and four-seater aircrafts, which was not common until a short time ago. 

UDAN - short for ‘Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik’, is a subsidised regional connectivity scheme that has given an impetus to air connectivity. Under UDAN, the number of airports has increased from 74 to 147 in a time span of eight years. Regional air connectivity could be a move to promote domestic tourism through better connectivity. It could also mean that tier cities may be potential locations for air travel. Are you ready to take off?

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