The double whammy of the Surya Kiran crash and the blaze that gutted over 300 cars hit the Aero India 2019 biennial airshow hard. The airshow recorded a whopping 25% drop in visitors compared to the previous edition, with less than an estimated 4 lakh people turning up for the event.
The first four days of the show had over three lakh visitors, as Amit Sahai, Joint Secretary, Defence Production, informed at the airshow valedictory on Sunday. But the visitor turnout on the last day of the show was lower than anticipated. About 5.4 lakh people had visited the 2017 edition of the plane carnival.
One big factor was the fire. It was apparent that the widely shared images and videos of the 300-plus cars gutted in the devastating fire on Saturday had sparked apprehensions. Massive crowds that was the hallmark of all previous airshow finales, were conspicuous by their absence on Sunday.
But the organisers chose to put up a brave front, highlighting the increased exhibitor numbers. Sahai informed that this edition had 403 exhibitors, including 165 foreign companies. A total of 54 countries participated, with 44 nations sending their delegations. Although big ticket announcements were missing beyond the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) to the weaponised version of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the participating aerospace firms did keep the business talks going.
Sahai informed that over 500 business-to-business meetings were held between public and private sector firms. In the process, as many as 50 Memoranda of Understanding (MoU)s were signed between multiple partners.
A CEO Round Table held on the show’s inaugural day had 13 global CEOs and 11 Indian CEOs participating. The discussions are expected to lead to followup actions that would boost the growth of aerospace and defence sector in India, Sahai noted.
Sixty-one aircraft were on display, with the spotlight on the controversial Rafale. Symbolising the focus on civil aviation, an Airbus-330neo aircraft took to the skies, the first for a civilian mainstream aircraft at the airshow. The B-52 bomber’s flypast, the C-295 and the F-16 also made their presence felt.
But it was the Surya Kiran aerobatic display team that dominated the drama in the sky throughout the five-day airshow. The mid-air collision and crash of two Surya Kiran Hawk jets that killed a pilot had forced the hugely popular team to give the airshow the miss this time. However, seven of the aircraft returned to display a much lauded aerial tribute to the departed pilot on Saturday.