Sunday, June 23, 2024

Indian Aviation’s Combined Front: Uniting Civil & Defence Sectors For Enhanced Capability, Economic Growth & Global Competition

By Staff Correspondent

In a significant move aimed at strengthening domestic capabilities, India is stepping towards a synergy between the civil and defence aviation sectors. Anand D Bhaskar, the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Air Works Group highlights that this could lead to a win-win scenario, aligning with the Make-in-India and Maintain-in-India strategies.

The Aviation Divide

India’s Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) industry historically evolved in separate silos for military and civil aviation. During the country’s early independent years, security took precedence, leading to off-the-shelf acquisitions for defence through organisations like Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). This contrasted sharply with civil aviation maintenance, which only gained momentum in the 1990s.

Growing Civil Aviation Potential

Today, India is on the cusp of becoming the world’s third-largest civil aviation market, behind the United States of America (USA) and China. An anticipated addition of over 2000+ aircraft by the next decade is a strong signature of the nation’s growth ambition. This fleet enhancement could make India both an aviation and MRO hub, offering extensive benefits for Civil MROs.

The ‘Berlin Wall’ Between Civil & Military Ecosystems

Acute observers of the country’s aviation sector believe that the isolated development between India’s Civil and Military ecosystems has created a ‘Berlin Wall,’ where there is little sharing of expertise, technology, or manpower between civil and defence enterprises. This has led to unnecessary duplication of infrastructure and capabilities, which contrasts starkly with the global MRO industry’s integrated approach.

Indigenisation: A Must For National Defence

Given the current geo-political scenario and complex relations with close neighbours, there is imperative to prioritise defence readiness. The continuous dependence on Western suppliers has created a complicated mix of technologies and platforms. The challenges in indigenous modernisation programmes have led India to increasingly rely on exorbitantly costly Western aviation capabilities.

Indigenous MROs are duty-bound to explore synergies and create strong aftermarket capabilities, stretching every rupee of investment, including life extension measures for various platforms such as AN32, Chetak, Cheetah, P-8Is, MiGs, Mirages, and Sukhois, highlighted the Air Works CEO & MD.

Civil-Defence Convergence: Breaking The Silos

Recognising the need for integration, the Government of India (GoI) announced plans in 2020 to promote Civil-Defence convergence. The move seeks to foster enhanced coordination and integration, driven by the vision of self-reliance.

The convergence offers a burgeoning market with the life cycle cost of any platform being twice-thrice times the development cost.

Key benefits include:

  • Boosting transparency and partnerships.
  • Strengthening indigenous defence engineering and maintenance capabilities.
  • Promoting cross-industry cooperation and collaboration.
  • Creating economies of scale and generating large-scale employment.
  • Spurring competition for better quality output at optimised costs.
  • Expanding the market and maximising infrastructure utilisation.
  • Assisting customers to save costs, conserving foreign exchange.
  • Reducing the industry’s skill shortage and opening up defence manpower.
  • Facilitating the export of MRO services to regional countries with similar defence platforms.

Domestic MRO players, like Air Works, have already begun indigenous civil-defence convergence. The home-grown maintenance of Boeing Business Jets, the Indian Navy’s P-8I ASW aircraft, and maintaining ERJs on behalf of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Border Security (BSF) helps illustrate this business case.

Bottlenecks & Solutions

However, challenges in training, skilled manpower, inventory management, taxation, and regulatory frameworks remain. The comparison to a leading United States MRO, where 20% are ex-servicemen (ESM), reveals the untapped potential in India’s MRO sector.

A National ‘Win-Win’ Situation

The civil and military sectors’ convergence heralds a new era in India’s aviation landscape. Complementing Make-in-India with Maintain-in-India could transform India into a formidable player in the global arena.

The integration of Civil MRO strengthens the defence forces and offers more competitive solutions, spurring economic development and fostering self-reliance. The ongoing commitment to this convergence will determine whether this will be a landmark success or a missed opportunity in India’s aviation history

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