From Avia India 1993 to Aero India today

From Avia India 1993 to Aero India today

The economic reforms launched by the Narasimha Rao government in June 1991 opened the doors of the Indian aviation market to the world. An Indian aviation company organised an aviation exhibition at the Ashoka hotel in Delhi in 1992 and positioned a lone Sukhoi­ 27 aircraft at Air Force Station, Palam. IAF decision makers flew the aircraft and formed a favourable impression of its capabilities.

Emboldened by the success of this maiden venture, an attempt was made by the same company to conduct a 'proper' airshow at Yelahanka in December 1993. It was called Avia India 1993. Proper infrastructure was not in place and a lot of difficulties were experienced by both the exhibitors and visitors. One Mirage 2000 of the French Air Force gave a very skilled aerobatic display, which drew a lot of 'Oohs' and 'Ahs' from the small crowd present. It was held for only two days.

Initial editions
The Ministry of Defence (MOD) then woke up and said the next air show would be organised by them with the might of the state behind it. By the time all the glitches were ironed out, three years passed and the first Aero India was held in December 1996. Due to inexperience and lack of infrastructure, including easy road access to Yelahanka, there were a lot of complaints from foreign exhibitors. Crowd control too proved to be a problem. The second Aero India was held in December 1998 and the Defence Minister Shri George Fernandes inaugurated it. The weather played spoilsport and intermittent drizzle with low cloud base played havoc with the flying display.

 The Indian Air Force then advised the organisers to hold the event in February, when Bangalore has blue skies albeit with rising day temperatures. The third edition of Aero India, instead of being held in December 2000, was held in February 2001.
George Fernandes again inaugurated the show and it has remained a tradition since then for the Defence Minister to inaugurate the show. The highlight that year was a brief flypast by the Light Combat Aircraft Technology Demonstrator aircraft on only its fourth flight. Each edition of Aero India since then has seen wider participation by both Indian and foreign companies.

At Aero India 2013, 274 foreign companies from 29 countries and 296 Indian companies showcased their wares. This year at Aero India 2015, 623 foreign and Indian companies will participate. Nearly 53 countries have signed up and in a departure from tradition, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi will inaugurate the show on 18 February 2015. A total of 72 types of aircraft will be displayed and four aerobatic teams will enthrall the audience with their aerial ballets.

Relevance explained
There are several reasons for the relevance of Aero India in the global market place. The Americas, Europe and Australasia are not going to see major wars. South Asia and the Middle East are the world's areas of tension and conflict. Added to this is the perception that an emerging super power like China will seek to dominate the smaller countries in its periphery and establish its naval presence in the Indian Ocean. India has one unfriendly neighbour on its Western border and an undemarcated border with its Northern neighbour. It is also the largest importer of arms in the world. All this makes Aero India an attractive place for global aviation majors to display their latest aircraft, systems and weapons.

The Multirole Medium Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract has still not been awarded to any company though negotiations with Dassault Aviation of France have been ongoing for the past three years. The contenders in the competition, especially the second shortlisted aircraft, the Eurofighter Typhoon, continue to lurk in the wings waiting for a chance to step in. Civil aviation is also poised to see major growth in the coming decades.

Two airshows
In an unfortunate development, a second air show is being held every alternate year at Begumpet airport, Hyderabad focussing on civil aviation. So India has two airshows, one for military aviation at Yelahanka (odd year) and one for civil aviation at Begumpet (even year).This is unique in the world of aviation shows because at every other air show like the ones at Farnborough, UK, Paris, Dubai and Singapore military aicraft and civil airliners are showcased at a single show. This makes it more economical for exhibitors and visitors alike.

In the larger interest of the nation, the Ministries of Defence and Civil aviation should bury their differences and come together at a single air show every two years. If this much needed reorganisation takes place, Aero India will easily rival the other air shows in importance in the years to come.

The second major reform required is to make the airshow more affordable for the small and medium aviation enterprises now emerging in India. Floor area rentals are extremely high by Indian standards and there is no good reason for the Government of India not to give some concession to Indian companies. Prime Minister Modi's clarion call to 'Make in India' will surely get a fillip in the aviation sector if Indian companies are given encouragement with lower participation costs.

Some problem areas which need resolution include mundane issues such as inadequate vehicle parking space, dirty toilets and poor crowd control on business days, all of which continue to dog the show. Proximity of the Kempegowda International Airport poses air traffic control problems during the aerial display timings. It is hoped the organisers will pay due attention to these problems which can be easily solved with better organisation and coordination.

(The writer is a retired Air Marshal)

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