It makes sense to merge air shows of B'luru, Hyd

It makes sense to merge air shows of B'luru, Hyd

Every two years since 1996, Aero India Show brings added reverberation into Bangalore skies. Started by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as a platform for governments and aerospace industries to network and showcase their wares across the world, Aero India is the country’s largest military aerospace event. However, given the fact that many aerospace companies span both military and civilian products, there is a civilian element too at the show.

Hundreds of global entities descend upon Air Force Station, Yelahanka, the venue of the event, and people of Bengaluru get an enviable opportunity to witness some world class aerobatics teams, get close glimpses of aircraft not normally seen in Indian skies, and revel in the good fortune to take selfies with all kinds of aircraft and equipment.

Aero India 2015 was highlighted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presence to inaugurate the show; inevitably, the observant would discern in his presence the motive of promoting his ‘Make in India’ impetus.

However, the lacklustre response the campaign has drawn so far from international entities are a bleak indication of how much enthusiasm may be manifest during the show about the slogan and the sentiment behind it. Perhaps, there has not been adequate change brought about by Modi in the business environment in India to alter the perceptions of foreign entities.

Notwithstanding the gloomy prospects for a large quantum of ‘Make in India’ deals coming to fruition during the show, the substantial presence of international companies is impressive quantitatively.

Totally, 54 countries are slated to be represented although of these, only 34 have business representation (the others being only political delegations marking their presence and hoping to gain something from the event). Over 600 companies, nearly half of them Indian, are participating. Of the foreign ones, the US has the highest figure of 64 followed by 48 from France including Dassault with whom the Rafale deal for the purchase of 126 aircraft is simmering over a back burner for the last three years.

There were some irresponsible reports about the possibility of Modi flying in a Rafale during the show but these have been denied. The ongoing conflict between Dassault and the MoD is unlikely to see a resolution during the show despite the presence of Dassault with three Rafale aircraft. Indeed, there were reports of the MoD calling the deal “essentially dead”. Needless to say, the Aero India 2015 will provide a platform for competition to re-assert itself through media and lobbying.

Some of the main attractions of the show, as far as people of the city are concerned, have been the aerobatic displays. While India’s Sarang team, which operates the HAL-manufactured Dhruv helicopter, drew the customary, loyal applause, the show stealers were the Czech formation team Flying Bulls led by Radka Machove, the indomitable 66-year old team leader who has been leading the Flying Bulls performing to appreciative applause all around the world. The Breitling Wingwalkers were a special attraction.

The Scandinavian Air Show Team (Sweden), Aero Superbatics Limited and Airborne Service Limited (both from UK), the Open Sky Jump Team (US Special Forces) will steal the show over the next  few days.

Growing popularity

The event is expected to receive over three lakh footfalls, double the number recorded at the last Aero India 2013, thus signifying the growing popularity of the show. However, there has been some talk of the venue for the next show being shifted out of Bengaluru. If that happens, it would be a foolhardy and retrograde step. The selection of Bengaluru as the original choice for the show was based on due diligence by the MoD and the Indian Air Force and nothing has changed.

Moreover, crores have been spent over the years on building the infrastructure to support the event; these include an Air Display Viewing Area and an underpass under the Bellary Road to permit connectivity between the parking area and the show venue.

If at all an argument can be proffered for the Bengaluru show to be discontinued, it is the possible merger of the two air shows India hosts biennially - the predominantly military Aero India Show in Bengaluru every even year, and the civilian India Aviation Show at Hyderabad every odd year. Typically for India, the two shows have evolved as a rivalry between the MoD and the Ministry of Civil Aviation which hosts the latter show.

India can ill afford to have two shows and joining up the two would prove beneficial for the participants as well as many of them who end up dividing their show budget over two events in India. Should one show have to be eliminated, people of the garden city would hope that Bengaluru show stays on.

Modi’s attendance at the show is significant as he is only the second Indian prime minister ever to visit the show. However, if the ‘Make in India’ push is to be weighty, he will need to be backed by the MoD.

Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh did not come across very well at the international seminar running in parallel with the show.

(The writer is a former group captain of the flying branch with the Indian Air Force)

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