Aero India 2019, the premier biennial trade show, buzzed the news feed in every platform for diversified reasons. Curtains been drawn on Asia’s largest aero trade show marking an end to another edition of the show. It is a daunting task to analyse the success of the 19th edition, with it being marked with two very unfortunate incidents that were somewhat beyond the control of the Organisers – the MoD.

The tone for the 19th edition was set with rumours rife of Aero India departing its traditional base – Bengaluru to be held in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Aimed at boosting the newly set up industrial defence corridor in Uttar Pradesh, rumours gained credibility every passing day. The MoD, however, contained them after Bengaluru retained its tag of being traditional host to Aero India event. The initial stages of the event organisation then gained traction, thanks to a slew of measures introduced by the organisers. Was there a delay in the notification of dates? Yes, say many of the OEMs, who quip that the time was not sufficient for them to make arrangements for the show. The MoD, however, refutes this and says that the dates were announced well with the timeframe.

One initiative that received applauds from the entire industry was the digitisation of the operations of the event. Registration of the exhibitors, business visitors, booking exhibition space and facilities to setting up B-2-B meetings, registering aircraft for display were made via online. The organised process with ease definitely pulled in the investors to take their steps further in the Indian Defence Manufacturing Industry. The event also absorbed the transparency of the information on the participating companies, SPOCs and other key particulars which are significant to carry out the talks during the trade event hassle-free.

According to the Department of Defence Production, Aero India 2019 was the biggest of its kind compared to previous editions in terms of exhibitor areas and number of aircraft that participated, both for static and aerial display.

A U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress makes a flyover at Air Force Station Yelahanka, Bengaluru, India, Feb. 20, 2019. The five-day airshow, Aero India, provided an opportunity to strengthen partnerships between the U.S. and India. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Juan Torres)

Yelahanka Air Force station, as ever, was all geared up to witness the runway to billion opportunities. But, in an unfortunate incident on 19 Feb, during the rehearsal for the event, two Hawk-132 aircraft from India’s Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT) collided with each other and the unfortunate demise of Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi, an experienced fighter pilot, was an unbearable loss. It was a major setback for SuryaKiran Aerobatic Team(SKAT), since their performance for the inaugural day was called-off.

Proceedings at the 19th edition took off with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman inaugurating the event. While on the ground tributes were paid to Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi by observing two minutes of silence, Air Warriors, flew a missing man formation was in to honour Wing Commander Gandhi at the inaugural fly-past. As a tribute to Gandhi, Rafale combat aircraft also flew at low speed.

The tone for business at Aero India – 2019 was set by MoS, Defence, Dr. Subash Bhamre, who chalked the procedural reforms introduced by his Government in defence manufacturing. He said it was his Government’s priority to create space for everyone including DPSUs, the private sector, MSMEs and the budding start-ups.

Minister of Commerce and Industry and Civil Aviation, Suresh Prabhu, during the inaugural event said – “We have 103 airports and we want to build another 100 in coming years. We want to connect remote areas of the country to air, investing 65 billion dollars. Under the Udan scheme, we have launched a program to connect 235 new destinations”. He also added that – “India will purchase 2300 new airplanes. We are coming up with the strategy to set up the roadmap and ecosystem to improve the manufacturing destination in India.” Aero India – 2019 marked the maiden collaborative effort between the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Civil Aviation for the trade aero show.

At the CEO Forum, the Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman set course for increased business through Aero India. Addressing the gathering she quipped that it is essential that we understand the existing gaps in global supply chain and provide necessary investment support.

Day 1 observed the inaugurations, seminars, spellbinding performances from aerobatic teams and was concluded by the formal declaration of Final Operational Clearance (FOC) of the aircraft. The day also witnessed the handing over of FOC Certificate and Release to Service Document (RSD) to the Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, in the presence of Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra and Chairman and Managing Director of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited R Madhavan.

On the second day of the event, there were notable seminars. “Redefining the future of aviation”, was the theme for the inaugural seminar of Day – 2. Ideas and thoughts generated at this seminar is bound to change the outlook of the aviation industry towards the future. FICCI’s technical session on ‘MRO opportunities and simulators’ discussed on the opportunities available in MRO and the efforts being taken to expand it further for private players through outsourcing and other ways.

Sanjay Jaju, Jt. Secretary DIP, MoD, flagged off the finals of the much talked Drone Olympics. In the fixed VTOL surveillance drone category above 4kg category, Sagar Defence from Mumbai won the first place. In the surveillance-fixed VTOL (multirotor) below 4kg category, Drovengers Quad was declared as the winners, while in the 4-20kg hybrid design category Team Dhaksha emerged victorious. In the flying formation challenge, UAS Delhi Technical University won the first place and Thanos Technologies bagged the first place in supply drop challenge.

Highlighting the achievements of Women in Aviation, ‘Women’s Day’ was celebrated on 23 Feb at the Aero India 2019. Aero India for the first time had a day dedicated for women in aviation and defence forces. 5 brave women para jumpers flew up in Mi-17 and completed a thrilling para jump to mark the beginning of Aero India Women’s Day. Later part of the day, a commemorative stamp celebrating women in aviation was released during felicitation of women achievers in aviation. India’s ace badminton player PV Sindhu co-piloted Light Combat Aircraft Tejas as part of Women’s Day celebration. Sindhu flew the LCA Tejas over 30 minutes and was accompanied by Wing Commander Siddarth Singh. By doing so, she became the first ever woman to co-pilot the indigenously manufactured LCA Tejas.

The Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat visiting the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) stall, at the Aero India- 2019, at Air Force Station Yelahanka, Bengaluru on February 21, 2019.

On the business front, to gain a competitive edge in the MMRCA tender, Lockheed Martin unveiled the F-21 Multi-role fighter aircraft exclusively for India with complete nod to ‘Make in India’ terms. Lockheed Martin’s earlier offer for the MMRCA tender was F16s, which is the largest number of combat aircraft in service in the world.

Boeing, kick-started the event with an aerial display of B-52 bomber, that was limited only for the inaugural fly-past. (Boeing had placed F/A-18 Super Hornet, P 8I, C-17 Globemaster for the display)

Boeing presented its strategy and plans for ‘Make in India’ and also offered advanced capabilities to the Indian armed forces at Aero India 2019. At the core of its strategy is Boeing’s public-private partnership with HAL and Mahindra, expected to produce next generation F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters in an entirely new ‘factory-of-the-future’ in India, delivering performance, affordability, and indigenization for Indian customers.

In addition, Boeing laid out its future defence plans proposing the KC-46A aerial refueler, AH-64E Apache attack helicopter, additional P-8 long-range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine aircraft and the twin-engine Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft.

Boeing also shared its success on ‘Make in India’, highlighting the contributions of its 160+ suppliers that provide parts and assemblies covering aerostructures, wire harness, composites, forgings, avionics mission systems and ground support equipment for some of Boeing’s most advanced defence platforms.

Further, Boeing highlighted the deliveries of the first batch of AH-64 Apache fuselages by Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited, the joint venture with Tata Advanced Systems Limited, which is the sole-producer of fuselages globally.

Aero India 2019 witnessed signing of significant number of MoUs. Navaratna Defence PSU Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) signed MoUs with JSR Dynamics Pvt Ltd, Israeli based Elbit Systems and Italian Elettronica and Bharat Forge.

Russian Helicopters, to explore the production of a number of assemblies and components for Ka-226T helicopter in India, signed MoUs with Elcom, Valdel Advanced Technologies, Dynamatic Technologies, Integrated Helicopter Services and Bharat Forge.

The event provided an unmatched platform for the MSMEs, starts ups and individuals to showcase their products, solutions and capabilities to the rest of the global aerospace and defence industry players and an opportunity to register themselves as part of the global supply chain.

A Light Combat Helicopter looks on as Tejas touches down in Aero India.

While the sun scorched over the Bengaluru skies, highly skilled pilots in their metal birds added to the temperature. Putting up breath taking manoeuvres they sizzled the sky and kept the audience at the edge of their seats. More 23 different aircraft from across the world were part of the air display in this edition. While Light Combat Aircraft Tejas and Sukhoi 30 MKI showcased the ‘Make in India’ efforts of Indian manufacturers. Dassault’s Rafale undoubtedly was the talk of the town and the aircraft did not fail to live up to the expectation as the French pilots performed one of the most daring aerobatic ballet over Bengaluru. As ever people had to resort to protecting their precious ears as Lockheed Martin’s F-16 from PACOM took the skies. The F-16 with thunderous sound has and will remain Aero India’s favourite aircraft. Sarang, Suryakiran and Yaks performed breath-taking aerobatics. The Light Utility Helicopter, Advanced Light Helicopter and Light Combat Helicopter proved HAL’s strong dominance in manufacturing reliable and robust rotary platforms.

Aero India – 2019 was yet another opportunity for the industry to showcase its products to the users and also to obtain their requirements. Sustained interactions between the industry and the users which took place at the side-lines of the event promise to spruce up the collaborative efforts in the future. The MSMEs and Start-ups have also walked away with renewed confidence.