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HomeDefenceAero India gets lukewarm response from industry, empty chairs greet minister Sitharaman

Aero India gets lukewarm response from industry, empty chairs greet minister Sitharaman

While all major defence aviation companies have turned up at the Aero India show in Bengaluru, many have reduced the size and seniority of their delegations.

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Bengaluru: Aero India, the country’s largest air show, witnessed a gloomy start and got a tepid response from the industry Wednesday.

The 12th edition of the biennial show began under the shadow of the collision of two Surya Kiran Hawk aircraft Tuesday, in which an Indian Air Force wing commander died.

Empty seats at the Aero India air show | Snehesh Alex Philip/ThePrint
Empty seats at the inaugural day of Aero India | Snehesh Alex Philip/ThePrint

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi skipping the inauguration, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman opened the show by saying the aim was to put India on the global map. But Sitharaman and other delegates on stage were greeted by several empty seats, increasing the scepticism in the industry.

Another indicator of the lukewarm interest was the fact that there was hardly any traffic en route from Bengaluru city or at the venue, whereas in earlier years, traffic snarls often made it an hour-and-a-half-long journey.

Stalls being readied at the air show on the opening day | Snehesh Alex Philip/ThePrint
Stalls being readied on the inaugural day | Snehesh Alex Philip/ThePrint

On the inaugural day, stalls were still being readied, while packaging waste and other items were still strewn around.

Also read: Nirmala Sitharaman pitches for ‘Make in India’ defence manufacturing as Aero India begins

Low interest among companies

All major defence aviation companies have lined up at the show, and while they sound upbeat on the face of it, privately they admit that the interest this time is low.

A lot of companies have reduced the number of delegates they have sent, as well as the seniority of the delegates in comparison to previous editions, industry sources said.

According to the Aero India official website, a total of 61 aircraft will be put on display and 403 exhibitors will be a part of the five-day event.

The excitement among foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) is not very high, with many attributing it to the lack of many big-ticket deals in the offing that they could bag.

The deal for 114 aircraft

The only mega deal that top OEMs will fight it out for is a multi-billion-dollar contract for the purchase of 114 fighter jets. However, even a year after the ‘request for information’ was issued, a formal ‘request for proposal’ is yet to come out.

Also, many from the industry and even the IAF feel that geopolitics could actually decide the deal, rather than pure technical criteria. So, companies are using their respective governments to make a case for them at various government-to-government interactions.

The Russians, for example, are pushing for the MiG-35 in a big way, and one can see large hoardings of the aircraft on the way to the Aero India venue from the airport. They had even prepared a special presentation for the prime minister at the air show, but never got the chance to show it.

Also read: What is a Hawk, the jet that crashed at Aero India rehearsal in Bengaluru

Legendary B-52 makes an appearance

While all the fighter jets in the race for the mega deal are on display at Aero India, the showstopper on the first day was a fly-by by the iconic B-52 Stratofortress bombers from the Andersen United States Air Force base at Guam.

The Boeing-manufactured aircraft is a long-range subsonic strategic bomber, which can carry a mighty 32,000 kg of weapons with a combat range of 8,800 miles without aerial refuelling.

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  1. “Also, many from the industry and even the IAF feel that geopolitics could actually decide the deal, rather than pure technical criteria.” True. But given this government’s previous actions (Rafale), crony capitalism could decide the deal rather than pure technical criteria.

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