India poised for growth in GA sector

 - February 27, 2011, 7:45 AM

As India celebrated the centenary year of commercial aviation last month, the nationπs business aviation sector is poised for exponential growth fueled by the nation's expanding economy.

Last month's Aero India event in Bengaluru signaled the takeoff of the general aviation segment, with Western manufacturers announcing sales and Indian firms planning new indigenous designs. In addition, there were announcements of infrastructure improvements, with agreements signed for the development of sales and maintenance service centers in the country.

Karthik Krishnamurthy, chief technology officer at Mahindra Aerospace, told AIN, "India is a young market for GA. We see many business people with potential. We want to leverage Indiaπs advantage to build aircraft." Mahindra Aerospace introduced the NM5, a 300-hp five-seat piston aircraft jointly developed with National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) reminiscent of the Cirrus SR22. Two prototypes are being built–one in India and another (for international certification) in Australia. The airplane is expected to start flying in Australia by the middle of this year and a little later in India with a view to certification by early 2013.

At Aero India the company launched the GA8 TC-320 Airvan, designed and built by GippsAero, an Australian company acquired by Mahindra. Currently the Australian facility has capacity to build two GA8s per month. Krishnamurthy said, "We'll supplement that with our aerospace facility in India to increase production. We're building a 10-seater GA variant that is expected to fly by late this year or early next." The GA10 will be a turbine-powered alternative to the piston-powered GA8. The company is also building an 18-seat variant, the GA18, in Australia and is likely to apply for certification by the end of 2012 in Australia.

Government-owned NAL (better known thus far for the ill-starred Saras twin-turboprop pusher) still aims to jump-start the civil aircraft industry in India. In addition to its work on the design of the NM5 with Mahindra Aerospace, it is conducting feasibility studies on a 50/70/90-seat regional transport. Officials at NAL said that the company will present a report to the government within three months seeking go-ahead to manufacture a 90-seat passenger aircraft. If it receives the green light, NAL anticipates that international aerospace companies will sign up as partners for the $1 billion project. The company expects the aircraft would be ready for commercial operation by 2017. 

The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation has identified the GA sector as a major growth opportunity in India in a recent report. The organization projects that sales of new business jets, helicopters, turboprops and piston aircraft could reach $12 billion over the next decade, taking the GA fleet to 2,000 aircraft. There are currently 680 general aviation aircraft in India.

Increasing Aircraft Sales

Eurocopter sold five AS350 B3s to three Indian customers. Offshore transport provider Global Vectra acquired three of the light singles–bringing its AS350B fleet to seven–while charter operators Summit Aviation and SS Aviation each purchased one. All five AS350s are scheduled for delivery this year.

Mumbai-based charter company Invision Air Services has taken delivery of two Phenom 100s of 18 it ordered and plans to have bases in more Indian cities when the remaining aircraft join the fleet.

Dassault Falcon is considering an authorized service center in India, in addition to the existing Dassault liaison office in New Delhi. More than 20 Falcons are currently operating in India and another 15 are on order for delivery to Indian customers within the next two years. Almost half of the new aircraft orders are for the flagship Falcon 7X. 

Bell Helicopter announced the first delivery of a 429 to Indian customer Span Air. Sameer Rehman, director of Asia-Pacific sales for Bell Helicopter, told AIN, "We aim to double our sales every year in India."

Bell Helicopter has two customer service facilities in India–Airworks India and Deccan Charters, which support the more than 100 Bells operating in the country.

Gulfstream has appointed Arrow Aircraft Sales and Charters an authorized independent sales representative in India. The company will work closely with Jason Akovenko, Gulfstreamπs Asia Pacific regional vice president, and Roger Sperry, regional senior vice president for international sales, who will continue to oversee sales in the country. Arrow Aircraft Sales has offices in New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai.

There are currently 17 Gulfstream aircraft in India, 12 of them large-cabin.

New Services Available for GA Aircraft and Helicopters

Embraer has appointed Air Works an authorized service center for Phenoms in India. The facility received Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) certification to provide MRO services for all Phenom 100s in the country in January.

The Tata Group has set up three joint-venture projects in the Aerospace Special Economic Zone at Hyderabad.

Tara Aerospace Systems will manufacture components for Sikorsky in India, including elements of the S-92 cabin. Tara builds upon the existing Tata Advanced Systems facility at the Aerospace and Precision Engineering special economic zone (SEZ), which assembles Sikorsky S-92 cabins. Nova Integrated Systems, part of Tata, will set up an integrated aerospace complex to undertake high-end precision electronics manufacturing, assembly and integration of airborne vehicles. Tata will manufacture aerostructures for Lockheed Martin's C-130.

Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) and Canadian flight simulator producer CAE have formed a joint-venture helicopter simulation facility at Bangalore called Helicopter Academy to Train by Simulation of Flying (Hatsoff). The facility has had a module for the Bell 412EP since July last year. A module for the HAL Dhruv advanced light helicopter is scheduled to come online for military and civilian training on May 1. A module for the Eurocopter AS365N3 Dauphin will be ready by July.

The U.S. has committed to fund a technical assistance program for the Airport Authority of India for the installation and operational certification of a pilot ground-based augmentation system at Chennai International Airport as part of the India-U.S. Aviation Cooperation Program, which is intended to improve the safety and efficiency of Indiaπs air traffic management systems.

Growing infrastructure

The new international terminal of the Thiruvananthapuram Airport was dedicated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in February. International flight operations were scheduled to begin on March 1.

Mumbai Airport will open its new International terminal by year-end and complete the airport redevelopment process by next year. Its capacity will increase to 47 million passengers per year, up from the current 27 million.

The state government of Karnataka is establishing an aerospace park near the international airport at Devanahalli on the outskirts of Bengaluru. The state aims to attract $100 billion in investments in the aviation sector in the next 10 years. Of the park's 1,000 acres, 250 will be reserved for a special economic zone (SEZ) where aerospace industries will receive tax benefits from the Indian government. An aviation university (a first for India) is also planned.

Gulfstream's Sperry said, "We see great long-term potential in the Indian market as infrastructure for business aviation expands." The nation's growing roster of wealthy individuals provides cause for optimism. India reportedly has 47 billionaires, ranking it fourth in the world, according to Forbes. Moreover, with more than 126,700 millionaires, India has the world's eighth-largest base of high-net-worth individuals, with recent year-on-year growth of 51 percent, according to Merrill Lynch-Capgemini.

A few challenges stand between India and a thriving general aviation segment, among them the countryπs high taxes. But as Sperry notes, high taxes weigh down other regions as well.

Support infrastructure is currently limited, but observers predict that the development of FBOs offering expanded ramp space and hangar facilities and increased airport capacity will help boost business aviation. In addition, curfews in major cities limit available operating slots for business jets.

Sperry said, "Limitations are mostly at major airports. These are the challenges of a fast-growing economy and we expect they will be addressed, because business aviation is an important component of the transportation system."