With the procurement of the multi billion dollar, Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) by the Air Force — that has dominated the last three editions of the Aero India — now out of the way, the biennial show is set to focus on more mundane things like global shortfall of aerospace engineers, unmanned aerial vehicles, and civil aviation.
The shift of focus of the air show from top notch fighter jet technologies to emerging concerns is evident not just in the line up of aircraft for the main event, set to begin on February 6, but also during the seminar and meetings that began on Monday.
President of Royal Aeronautical Society in the UK Phil Boyle, who spoke at the opening of the technical programme of the seminar, outlined civil aviation and unmanned aerial vehicles as the key areas of growth for the industry. While growth in the Asia Pacific region is leading the demand in the civil aviation sector, 80 countries have an ongoing UAV programme by one name or the other, he said. A fifth generation advanced fighter aircraft was briefly mentioned by Boyle as something for the industry to look forward to, but included the caveat of cost and time for its development.
The real challenge to the aerospace industry is its aging workforce in the US and Europe, he said. “There is a shortfall of engineers partly due to the demographics of the industry in the US and Europe,” he said. The increasing shortage of aerospace engineers is resulting in Indian engineers being more sought after on account of the nearly 2.50 lakh engineers produced in the country every year, Boyle said. “Indian engineers are being sought after by the US and Europe. It is their potential that is underpinning your regional dynamic and your local aerospace industry’s development and production. The UK has built its aerospace industry through international collaboration. We need to take that collaboration forward into our most precious of resources — human resources,’’ he emphasised.
Indications that India is not being viewed just as the new aerospace market by the US and European giants was provided by Peter Gutsmiedl, the Asia Pacific head of operations of the EADS company, Cassidian, which two years ago in the run up to the MRCA deal set up a Bangalore engineering centre.
“At the conclusion of the (MRCA) deal you see us still here. We are not here for one single project although I admit it was a big one. It has not changed our long term strategy for India. I am here to build a long lasting presence for Cassidian in India,’’ Gutsmeidl said with reference to the failure of the EADS-built Eurofighter Typhoon to bag the MRCA contract. “We have a commitment to India not only as a market but also to build industrial capabilities, and this is also to be seen in the context of the EADS group. Our intention is to build a long term industrial set up with Indian capabilities. It is not just a short term activity, we are here for the long term,’’ he said.
Secretary, Defence (research and development), V K Saraswat, however, said at the seminar that despite aerospace technology development projects worth Rs 80,000 crore being underway in India, private participation in the sector had not grown to the levels expected by the DRDO. “Many industries have said that they are willing to make the investments, but for the last four to five years we have only heard talk. Ultimately, I still have to go to HAL for production. The smaller companies have not graduated from being mere component makers,’’ he said.
Saraswat added that the DRDO is ready to offer its latest UAV Rustom (set to fly this later month) for joint production through equitable participation of private industry.