IAF awaits 'safe' return of last batch of AN-32 fleet

IAF awaits 'safe' return of last batch of AN-32 fleet

IAF awaits 'safe' return of last batch of AN-32 fleet

The Indian Air Force will have to wait for another agonising month before the last five of its AN-32 transport aircraft return from Ukraine’s capital Kiev, perhaps flying close to the same area where the Malaysian Airlines MH-17 was shot down.

“The last batch of five AN-32 aircraft is due for delivery in August,” said an IAF official, without disclosing the flight path these planes are supposed to take in their return journey.

The commonly used flight path between Ukraine and India pierces the area where rebels and Ukraine forces are engaged in conflict. A day after the MH-17 tragedy, the Ministry of Civil Aviation asked Air India and Jet Airways to stay away from the conflict zone.

In 2009, IAF signed a $400-million agreement with Ukraine to upgrade its entire fleet of 102 aircraft, which is used to ferry the bulk of India’s military troops and load.

A contract for total technical life extension, overhaul and re-equipment of AN-32 fleet has been concluded with SpetsTechnoExport, Ukraine, to overhaul and upgrade these planes, the then Defence Minister A K Antony said told Parliament in 2009.

As per the arrangement, 40 aircraft were to be refitted at Kiev while the remaining 62 would be done at the Base Repair Depot, Kanpur in collaboration with Ukraine. While 35 AN-32s have returned to India so far, the last batch of five is slated to return in August.
The overhaul programme includes extension of the AN-32’s life up to 40 years besides overhauling and re-equipping the aircraft with new systems.

The versatile aircraft, which is the mainstay of IAF’s transport fleet is also one of the safest. In the last five years as many as 30 Russian fighter aircraft crashed, compared to only one An-32. IAF officials insist that the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine has not impacted the An-32 upgrade programme as Ukraine ensures insulation of of aerospace industry from external factors because of economic reasons.

Incidentally, the Comptroller and Auditor General on Friday criticised the IAF for wasting Rs 227 crore of taxpayer’s money by not properly planning an order to buy replacement engines for these aircraft. The engines were required to be changed as they completed their technical life.

While the need was for 130 aero-engines, the IAF ordered 30 engines at one rate and another 100 engines at a higher rate two years later. The first batch of 30 were purchased at a price of Rs 3.16 crore apiece, whereas the rest were brought with a price tag of Rs 5.43 crore per unit, resulting in an additional expense of Rs 227 crore.