The Aero India airshow, held last month at its traditional venue of Yelahanka Air Force Station, located just outside the IT and business capital of Bangalore, has traditionally been dominated by military programs and displays rather than the multibillion-dollar signings of civilian sales that are the norm at most other major expositions. The big airline makers are more or less a secondary attraction at this event, with business aviation–as one of the major private jet makers lamented–“still a distant third place.” However, observers predict that that will not be the case for long. To help the process along, Bombardier, Cessna, Dassault and Raytheon displayed aircraft there for the first time.
The business jet is becoming an increasingly necessary piece of equipment for large and expanding corporations in India. Until recently, business jets were seen as expensive toys for well heeled Indian magnates to use to display their wealth conspicuously. But this trend is changing, explained Luis Carlos Affonso, Embraer’s senior vice president for the corporate aviation market.
“Demand for business jets is a direct function of a nation’s overall economic growth,” he told AIN. “Growth of this kind drives the need for greater numbers of high-value/potential people. The business jet then becomes a productivity tool–a method for moving these people around from one work site or engagement to another.”
India’s economy has been experiencing a growth rate of 6 to 7 percent for the past 10 years; last year that number exceeded 9 percent.
But India’s infrastructure lags far behind this economic expansion. Most of the companies that establish major operations in India discover that they have to set up their own power generation stations and electrical grids, their own water and sewage systems, their own telecommunications switches, and in some cases their own roads to connect their facilities to the rest of the city.
Embraer is doing well in this environment because the domestic Indian carriers often cannot meet the needs of these businesses, Affonso said.
Other players in the market include Dassault, which has sold a number of its jets to Indian billionaire Ratan Tata. Yves Robins, Dassault’s vice president for international relations, and other company officials see a total of 10 Dassault business aircraft being operated in India by the end of the year, with more sales to follow.
“Our jets are attractive for the Indian firms that are starting to operate globally and regionally. With our 900EX you can make the jump from India to Dubai or London or Singapore, or even Australia.”
The potential for growth in business jet sales is strong. Most observers of Aero India say the trends over the course of the last several shows point to a future in which there will be less of a military presence at this event and more interest in and display of business aircraft–to the point where they will no longer be the “distant third-place” participants.
Progress continues on India’s Saras
While many Western business jet designs made their Aero India debut at last month’s event, indigenous designs such as the Saras were making repeat appearances at the show.
Indian state-owned National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) again brought the first prototype of the Saras, which made its flying debut at Aero India 2005. At this year’s event, the airplane sported a new color scheme. As of last month’s show, prototype one had logged 95 flight hours in 40 test flights.
Teething problems in the initial phase of flight testing, reported earlier, have been solved, Dr. A.R. Upadhya, director of NAL, told AIN. The reported problems included “incorrect work of flaps” and faults in the hydraulics. Upadhya said the main cause of these problems was “wrong geometry” of the flap extension mechanism rather than the hydraulics, as was reported in the Western media. He said prototype number one has been reworked to include a revised flap extension and retraction system; prototype number two was designed from the outset to incorporate these changes.
The second Saras prototype was undergoing ground runs when Aero India opened. At the event Upadhya said the aircraft would “fly within a month.” Unlike prototype number one, the second prototype has Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67 engines that develop 1,250 hp in place of PT6A-66s flat rated at 850hp.
HAL plans to fly the third prototype at the end of next year. That airplane will have all-composite wings, empennage and bulkheads to reduce the airplane’s weight. The companies also plan to make aerodynamic improvements based on analysis of prototype number one’s test flights.
Indian certification is expected in 2009. The Indian air force said it needs between 35 and 40 Saras for training and troop transportation. The Saras is also viewed as a replacement for Dornier Do-228s.