Thursday, September 13, 2018

India Looks to Indigenous Fighters

 - September 12, 2018, 2:58 PM

The AMCA stealthy fifth-generation fighter project aims to provide a replacement for India's Sukhoi SU-30MKI fighters, one of which is seen here with an Australian F/A-18 Hornet. (photo: Royal Australian Air Force)
With the number of the Indian Air Force’s fighter squadrons expected to decrease quickly from the present 31 as the current fleet ages, there has been a decisive endeavor to accelerate the recapitalization of the fighter fleet. The majority of the new fighters are to bear the “Make in India” label. By 2032, the Indian Air Force plans to have at least 18 squadrons of Indian-made fighters, said the Deputy Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal R. Nambiar, at a conference held in Delhi this month.
Nambiar said that the squadrons of the indigenously built fleet would include the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk1, Mk1A, and Mk2 that, in 10 years, “would be the mainstay of our inventory.” LCA variants would replace the MiG-29s, Jaguars, and Mirage 2000s. He said of the LCA: “It is a wonderful aircraft but deliveries are too slow.”
With the India-Russia fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) project showing little signs of moving ahead, it is the twin-engine, stealthy Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) program that the Indian Air Force is now looking at “as a replacement for the Sukhoi Su-30s, which will start showing their age by then,” noted Nambier. He said that the air force “has put its money where its mouth is” and has already released a facility in Coimbatore in South India to the Defence Research Development Organisation to start work on two AMCA technology demonstrators. In the meantime, the Minister of Defense, Nirmala Sitharaman, confirmed to Parliament the feasibility study for the development of AMCA had already been completed. 
While optimistic about the project, Ashis Kumar Ghosh, the AMCA project director, said that there have been numerous challenges. “AMCA is in the fifth-gen, 25-ton weight category, to be operated [partially] stealthy and with internal weaponry. The most important [challenge] is developing the technology indigenously while retaining common design drivers, yet being different. We would like to fly with a readily available engine, and the swing role has to be performed, as asked for by the air force.” He added that an increase in survivability was planned with “stealth, electronic warfare, and performance.”
Realization of the plan is to first fly two technology demonstrators of a fifth-generation aircraft. “Once the airframe is ready and flown, we will start to add others in a phased manner. This helps in de-risking the program as we can start work on different aspects simultaneously.” He added that a quality, skilled manufacturing ecosystem was essential for the AMCA to be built. Vendors, he said, would be dealing with a “high geometric complexity. Too many requirements are required for stealth. If you cannot maintain proper tolerances, it becomes a challenge.”
As the first of 36 Rafales are delivered from September next year until 2022, an official indicated that Dassault Aviation could likely be given an additional order in later years, as they would most likely be cheaper. With two squadrons established at different bases in India, and able to absorb additional aircraft, there would be no further need to equip additional bases with the necessary tooling and equipment.
Regarding the Request for Information released for 114 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA), with a Request for Proposal that will be issued late next year at the earliest and implemented after three to four years, there is cynicism among many OEMs who feel that this, too, might experience the fate of the earlier MRCA that was canceled by the previous government. Additionally, 85 percent of the MRCA project has to be “Made in India” by a Strategic Partner (SP)/Indian Production Agency. While it has a straightforward intent, the perplexing SP model is slow with decision-making and the final draft has yet to be implemented, leaving future vendors in a state of uncertainty.

SpiceJet Launches Dedicated Cargo Airline

 - September 10, 2018, 2:26 PM
SpiceJet unveiled the first SpiceXpress Boeing 737-700 freighter in Delhi on September 10. (Photo: Neelam Mathews)

As India’s GDP hits a high of 8.2 percent and airline cargo belly space starts to exceed demand, Budget SpiceJet has become the first commercial airline to launch a dedicated domestic and international cargo airline, SpiceXpress. It will start operations to Bangalore from Delhi on September 18 and this year launch international destinations, including Hong Kong and Afghanistan.
Israel Aerospace Industries' (IAI) Bedek Aviation Group converted the SpiceXpress Boeing 737-700 freighter, which it acquired on an operating lease from Austin Texas-based Spectre Air Capital. The deal represents the first Spectre has ever completed in India, Spectre Cargo Solutions Kevin Casey told AIN.
The airline has ordered ten freighters and will receive a total of four by the end of the year, SpiceJet chairman and managing director Ajay Singh said. “Economy is a big driver of cargo,” he explained in an interview with AIN. “Increasingly, perishables have to be transported with speed and safety. Even organs for transplants comprise a large part of the sensitive cargo.”
The growing online retail business in India led by such companies as Amazon India and Flipkart has propelled growth to once poorly connected remote regions like the mountainous Northeast, for instance. Research firm eMarketer has projected retail sales to grow by 31 percent this year to touch $32.70 billion, primarily led by online companies. “There is a need to get those deliveries to the customer as fast as possible, hence the surging demand for time-definite delivery capability via dedicated main deck freighter aircraft,” explained Casey. “A prime example is the 737 freighter, a mainstay of hub-and-spoke freighter operations around the world, and for which demand is still ‘super strong.’”
SpiceXpress has started at an opportune time, as the Airports Authority of India (AAI) launches its own cargo terminals and cold storage facilities under an independent company. “We look forward to working with SpiceJet around the country at our airports,” said AAI chairman Guruprasad Mohapatra.
The government will soon release a cargo and logistics policy to ensure “a seamless multi-modal operation,” added state minister of civil aviation Jayant Sinha.

Air Transport Leaders Sound Alarm over India’s Future

 - September 5, 2018, 11:27 AM
As Indian airlines’ operational costs rise and fares fall following an increase in fuel prices by 50 percent over the past year, industry leaders such as International Air Transport Association director general Alexandre de Juniac continue to express serious concern about their financial health. In Delhi on September 4 to attend the International Aviation Summit, co-hosted by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, IATA, and Airports Authority of India, de Juniac called the current trajectory of Indian carriers “unsustainable.”
“[Fuel] comprised 34 percent of India’s airlines' operational costs against an average of 24 percent for global airlines in January,” he said. “Any increase in fuel price is highly sensitive for India in particular more than in other countries due to its prevalent taxes and lack of competition at airports for fuel supply and fees and more taxes at different stages of fuel delivery.” He repeatedly urged the government to view the issue during the summit. “We are not just talking about this to India, but to European and the Australian governments as well,” he added. “Airlines have done their job by controlling costs; now if governments can…that will be a huge positive.”
Growth forecasts for India indicate a tripling of passenger demand by 2037, when IATA projects some 500 million people to fly to, from, or within India.
“The main problem is how to cope with growth on the supply side,” warned the IATA director. “The key is to integrate all aircraft being delivered into the system. India has some 1,000 aircraft on order in the next eight to ten years and major airports with infrastructure falling back, and already running out of parking and slots to offer airlines.”
Industry officials warn that the shortfall could stall the approximate 18 percent annual growth over the past few years. Airports Council International director general Angela Gittens called on regulators to offer a “proportionate, clear, and consistent regulatory framework” to encourage private investment in the country’s air transport infrastructure. “The scale of current and forecast demand at Indian airports requires significant investment to maintain and enhance infrastructure as well as passenger service capacity at an appropriate level of quality,” she said.
Given the scarcity of investment, developers will need to control costs while building airports. “When the average airfare is around $75 and airlines have to integrate development fees into the fare, we need to rethink building grandiose airports,” said IndiGo COO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer. “We must think of how to best make use of existing infrastructure.”

African Air Charter Outfit Adds Airvan 10 To Fleet

 - August 31, 2018, 10:33 AM
African air charter company Major Blue Air is adding Mahindra Aerospace Airvan 10 turboprop singles to its fleet. (Photo: Mahindra Aerospace)


Maun, Botswana-based air charter company Major Blue Air has accepted its first 10-seat Mahindra Aerospace Airvan 10. The turboprop single received type certification from both the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and U.S. FAA last year.
The charter operator already has five eight-seat Airvan 8 piston singles in its fleet; other models on property include the Cessna 172 and 206, Hawker 800XP, and Beechcraft King Air B200 and Baron 58. Major Blue Air’s base hangar is situated at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport in Gaborone.
“Over last few years, we have enhanced our focus and attention to the important [air charter] market. With increasing traffic, this market needed a bigger and turbine aircraft. And the larger Airvan 10 complements the Airvan 8,” said Mahindra Aerospace executive director and CEO Arvind Mehra. According to Mahindra, 35 Airvan 8s have sold in Botswana alone.
The Airvan is the most suitable aircraft for Botswana’s tourism industry, a Mahindra spokesperson told AIN. Larger tourist groups don’t want to hire two aircraft, so the Airvan 10 that seats eight passengers, along with two crew, was needed, she noted, adding, “Besides, the large windows offer an almost 360-degree view of the game country.”
While the airplane is assembled in Australia, the aerostructures business of the Airvan is based in India, where the company has a 270,000-sq-ft/25,000-sq-m facility near Bengaluru. Mahindra is now seeking approval for the Airvan 10 from India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation to allow sales and deliveries in its home country.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Indian Navy Receives Approval for New Helicopters

 - August 30, 2018, 9:38 AM
The Indian Navy has been approved to buy the MH-60R from Sikorsky to replace the dwindling fleet of Westland Sea Kings, the first of which entered service in 1971. Here a late 1980s-vintage Sea King Mk 42B is seen in June this year while visiting the U.S. Navy carrier Ronald Reagan. (photo: U.S. Navy)

The Indian Ministry of Defence has finally granted approval to acquire 24 anti-submarine and anti-ship Multi-Role Helicopters (MRH) in answer to a decade-old "urgent" requirement. The news does not come a day too soon for the Indian Navy (IN). The proposal is to acquire Sikorsky MH-60Rs (“Romeos”) by a U.S. Foreign Military Sales channel. Earlier a direct-sale of the similar Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk had been approved in principle but foundered over drawn-out price negotiations.
The acceptance of necessity (AON) for the MH-60R buy is valid for 18 months, which ordains that the order will have to be made in that time frame. Sikorsky (Lockheed Martin) had withdrawn from the S-70B discussions held for years following a refusal to reduce pricing. The MH-60R deal comes with 30 percent offsets.
A request for proposal for the MRH was released 10 years ago to replace the aged and now mostly retired Westland Sea Kings in the Indian Navy inventory. While AIN was unable to get a formal response on why the change in the procurement model was negotiated, a senior official surmised: “The MH-60R comes with American sensors and the FMS route will be faster. The S-70B was with Indian sensors. Both airframes are almost similar.” AIN learned that some changes will be made to the new aircraft, including the adoption of flotation gears similar to those fitted to the Sea Kings.
“The MH-60R will provide a vital capability for the Indian Navy in the Indo-Pacific region,” read a Lockheed Martin statement to AIN. "In addition, the acquisition allows the IN to benefit from the ongoing support provided for over 300 MH-60Rs flown by the U.S. Navy, the Royal Australian Navy, Royal Danish Navy, and the Royal Saudi Naval Forces. Our technology insertion roadmap planned over the next three decades ensures the 'Romeo' stays relevant and ahead of the threat environment.”
Simultaneously, the Defence Acquisition Committee has also cleared the procurement of 111 navy utility helicopters (NUHs) to be made under the Strategic Partnership (SP) model, the policy of which is yet to be given a formal veneer. The project bid is expected to take some time. The NUH will replace the Alouette series, Cheetahs, and Chetaks.
The twin-engine NUHs are to be produced in India under the SP model for which the prime bidder has to be an Indian company in partnership with an OEM. Partnerships already announced include Mahindra Defense with Airbus Helicopters for the AS565 MBe Panther, and the Bell 429 offered in partnership with Tata Advanced Systems (TASL).
Lockheed Martin could also tie up with TASL, which currently produces S-92 cabins under a five-year-old joint venture in Hyderabad. In a statement to AIN, Lockheed Martin said: “Combining the attributes of the S-76 helicopter family with today’s latest technologies…the S-76D has the ability to be customized to the required specifications of the 'Make in India' program.”  
It is not clear whether Leonardo’s AW109 Trekker will be allowed to participate following the company’s blacklisting related to a bribery issue of the previous AgustaWestland company. Meanwhile, HAL could also be in the competition with a naval model of the Kamov Ka-226. The company is building 200 Ka-226T light utility helicopters for the Indian Air Force and Army in a joint venture with Rostec.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

First Biofuel Flight in South Asia Resonates During Cost Crisis

 - August 28, 2018, 10:09 AM

The first biofuel technology demonstration flight ever performed in South Asia on August 27 served as a reminder of how the fast the increasing price of turbine fuel has come to hurt yields among several Indian airlines. At the event, Indian Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari said such awareness will soon lead to a policy on biofuels derived from non-edible oils for powering jet, marine and road engines. 
The fuel for the 55-minute flight in a SpiceJet Bombardier Q400, performed under its “Green Miles” initiative, consisted of a blend of 75 percent aviation turbine fuel and 25 percent biofuel derived from Jatropha seeds and produced by the Indian Institute of Petroleum. Gadkari said the biofuel policy will call for a 12-year program involving identification of areas for farming, incentivizing farmers to grow the crop on a continuous basis, setting up the industry, and transfer of technology for industrialization.
Meanwhile, the airlines continue to struggle financially. The depreciation of the Indian rupee and taxes places “great stress on the aviation sector,” said SpiceJet chairman and managing director Ajay Singh. Domestic Indian carriers pay for maintenance, leases, purchases, and fuel in U.S. dollars.  “Presently, there are issues of rapid growth and lack of infrastructure, and excess capacity with major carriers chasing the same routes,” Singh added. “We need a 10- to 15 percent increase in yields to cover costs.”
Singh told AIN that ancillary revenues from sources such as selling food in-flight accounted for 17 percent to 18 percent of earnings, far less than the global industry’s average. As online retail in India grew by 22 percent, to $17.8 billion in gross merchandise value in 2017, belly space in airlines has become limited. In response, SpiceJet might soon announce plans to operate a converted Boeing 737 freighter to serve satellite cities or an international destination in South East Asia, a cargo official told AIN.
SpiceJet’s plight reflects a generally dismal financial state of Indian airlines. Fellow Indian domestic carrier Jet Airways, which generated a loss of more than $199 million loss in its first fiscal quarter ending June 30, plans more than $300 million of cost reduction measures over the next two years, targeting maintenance, distribution, fuel consumption, debt and interest, and manpower productivity.
The effects of the depreciation of the Indian currency and the aggressive fare environment has even hurt successful budget carrier IndiGo, which suffered a 97 percent decline in profits year-over-year last quarter. National carrier Air India, carrying debt of more than $7 billion, cannot find buyers and is said to be operating under financial duress.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Indian P-8 Controversy Threatens Follow-on Buy by Neelam Mathews

 - August 15, 2018, 12:26 
India's P-8I aircraft feature a magnetic anomaly detector in a tail boom. They replaced Tu-142s with Indian Naval Air Squadron 312. (photo: Boeing)

A desire of the Indian Navy to procure an additional 12 Boeing P-8I maritime patrol aircraft is lying in cold storage following a recent audit report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), an authority that audits all receipts and expenditure of the government. The report has reprimanded the then-Congress government for ordering an initial eight P-8Is, despite their being priced higher than the competing EADS-CASA (now Airbus Defence and Space) A319. India’s rules state that the lowest price (L-1) equipment has to be considered for procurement.
In 2016, under the present government, India exercised its options for four more P-8Is, the delivery of which starts in 2020. According to CAG, the financial bid was evaluated with EADS-CASA including a 20-year product support cost, while that for Boeing was not. The contract was concluded for eight P-8Is with Boeing in 2009 for $2.138 billion. “Later, Boeing offered product support under a separate negotiable contract,” said the audit.
An offset contract for $641.26 million (30 percent of the main contract value) signed with Boeing to be completed within seven years—by August 2016—has also not yet been fulfilled. Boeing declined to comment. A senior analyst said on condition of anonymity, “Honoring offsets is never considered seriously by foreign OEMs, many of whom have defaulted. Indian rules are very flexible on this. The government holds 15 percent of the bank guarantee of the contract and also charges a 5 percent penalty [on the cost of offsets]…so why go through the hassle?”
Some offsets were signed. Dynamatic Technologies signed a contract in 2010 with Boeing for the manufacture of cabinets to house critical power and mission equipment for the P-8I program. Boeing also entered into a contract with Tata Advanced Materials, a subsidiary of Tata Industries, in 2016 to source composite interior closeout panels for the P-8 that cover the interior wall structure of the aircraft. Bharat Electronics delivered Data Link II, a communications system, to Boeing for installation.
The discriminator against Boeing’s competitor was "the huge investment the U.S Navy is making…the tremendous range, speed, and the ability to patrol India's large coastline of more than 7,000 km [4,350 miles],” a Navy official told AIN. However, CAG said the critical role equipment Boeing offers is not fully meeting the needs of the Indian Navy. “Owing to capability limitations of radars installed onboard, the aircraft is not able to achieve the envisaged coverage area requirements.” EADS-CASA did not follow the development further following the loss of the contract.
There is concern that further procurement will be delayed and commonality will be lost, as has been the case in past military aviation buys. “The current audit system has become a roadblock to progress. Boeing’s P-8 is the world’s best maritime reconnaissance aircraft. By comparing it to CASA, the CAG once again demonstrated its ignorance and incompetence and affected defense preparedness,” said one OEM. Another called it “raising a stink” for no reason and said it is “time to jettison the idiotic notion of L-1 for judging the merits of complex weapon systems.”