India must show it is ready to do business: The Statesman

Visitors watching planes of the Indian Air Force Surya Kiran team performing near a US Air Force Super Hercules C130J during the Aero India-2017 in Bangalore, India, on Feb 17, 2017.
Visitors watching planes of the Indian Air Force Surya Kiran team performing near a US Air Force Super Hercules C130J during the Aero India-2017 in Bangalore, India, on Feb 17, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

In its editorial on Feb 21, the paper says that India's biennial air show, Aero India, will only attract cutting edge combat aircraft if the international aviation industry is convinced that the country is ready to do business.

A competent financial audit will calculate the expenses incurred on the biennial military-aviation fiesta Aero India, the 11th edition of which has just concluded at Indian Air Force Yelahanka, Bangalore. Unfortunately, it would be difficult to assess in financial terms the "gains" that accrued from the extravaganza.

For while 500,000 footfalls, and massive traffic jams when the show was thrown open to the public might testify to its popularity, the prime purpose of such events is business promotion - the thrills that attracted so much attention are a mere side-show. Hence the yardstick by which the success of Aero India 2017 - or the lack of it - must be evaluated is "professional", lest it degenerate into a mela like the annual trade fair in the Capital.

The international aviation industry will not invest much time, effort and money for a mere exhibition.

That nearly 100 firms fewer participated this year, when contrasted with the previous show tells a certain tale: it points to a trend that needs to be addressed before the next Aero India.

Particularly in the light of the "buzz" that the next event may be staged in the defence minister's political bailiwick, Goa, which unlike Bangalore does not have an aviation industry track-record; and its lovely beaches are no substitute for an industry that came into being during World War II.

While no deals are expected to be firmed up at such events, it is worth noting that while there is need for some 200 combat aircraft to maintain the desired squadron-strength of the Indian Air Force, no "new" aspirant flipped its wings at Yelahanka.

The Lockheed Martin F-16, Swedish Saab Gripen, Dassault's Rafale and Russian SU-30 have all been evaluated before, and if more attractive financial arrangements are now on offer the event was not where they would be made. The grapevine has it that those firms participated in Aero India 2017 only because they apprehended that staying away would diminish their chances of bagging an order.

The domestic industry did not really "sell" itself: though the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited displayed a range of helicopters, most of them have been on the market for some time now.

The Air Chief flying the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was merely for show. Much was made of the "induction" of an indigenous AWAC, but this plane had participated in the flypast on Republic Day, and a "bigger" platform is now being considered.

It was disappointing that the participants were informed that the revised procurement/offsets policy would be announced shortly - prudence demanded that it be made public ahead of the show. The short point being that Aero India will attract the "cutting edge" only if India convinces that it is ready to do business.

The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media entities.