India needs at least 600 helicopters in the civil sector now. But, instead of relying on costly imports, can Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) address this demand by co-producing the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv's civil variant with private participation?
Having clocked over 2.4 lakh flying hours in its defence and civil avatars combined, the ALH has been in action for some time now. But a recent Director General Civil Aviation (DGCA) airworthiness directive issued after complaints of vibration and jerks in the Civil-Dhruv's cockpit, has put the aviation major in a spot of bother.
Dismissing this as a precautionary letter, HAL has instead redoubled its efforts to woo the private sector in the Civil-Dhruv project under Transfer of Technology (ToT). On Saturday, HAL organised a workshop for Indian private players, chaired by Secretary, Defence Production, Dr Ajay Kumar.
HAL is the Design Authority and Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of ALH-Dhruv. The upgraded Civil-Dhruv is equipped with the latest avionics and glass cockpit and is under production and certification from DGCA.
The partnership programme has already moved on. A Request for Quotation (RFQ) was issued in April 2019. Under this deal, the selected Indian Partner will also be required to provide support to the customers throughout the life of the product (20 years).
Prospective bidders, various supply chain partners, industry chambers of commerce such as ASSOCHAM, FICCI, CII, Society of Indian Defence Manufacturers (SIDM), Karnataka State Development Council and Karnataka Udyog Mitra were invited to the workshop.
Indigenously designed and developed by HAL, the multi-role, multi-mission helicopter in the 5.5-ton weight class is currently operated by both defence and civil customers.
ALH Mk I version is now in civilian use for law enforcement, anti-naxalite, VIP movement and ground survey operations by the Border Security Force (BSF), Jharkhand government, and Pawan Hans Helicopter Ltd.
But the bulk of the fleet is with the armed forces. This could potentially change if the civil variant is marketed well through private participation, as Dr Kumar put it. The platform has already entered the export market, making some impact with Nepal, Maldives, Ecuador and Israel.
To qualify as a partner, HAL has a requirement list: Five years of experience in the engineering and aerospace industry, a net worth of Rs 2,000 crore and a minimum turnover of Rs 2,500 crore.