The Ecuador government plans to return advanced light helicopters ‘Dhruv’ to Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) once a court case involving the two sides is settled, in a long-running issue over performance of the chopper.
Confirming this move by the South American country, a top HAL official and diplomatic sources confirmed to FE that there are plans to sell off the helicopters, but since the contract between Ecuador and HAL is still in place, the machines cannot be sold off. Also, legal proceedings are going on, and so, no sales can happen.
Admitting that HAL could not provide proper product support, and reasoning that the first option of sales is and should be HAL, a top official told FE: “We have appealed to the government of that country and our lawyers are in discussions as no unilateral sale can be made.”
Even though in an effort to improve relations with Ecuador vis-a-vis the ‘Dhruv’ helicopters, HAL CMD T Suvarna Raju had confirmed that “HAL has offered to service three helicopters free of cost which are not in use in Ecuador”.
There have been hectic rounds of discussions between the two sides, and the ministry of external affairs (MEA) had to step in after the South American country unilaterally cancelled the contract.
Earlier this year, Ecuador had terminated the contract when it lost more than half of its fleet (four out of seven helicopters) in crashes and blamed it on their poor quality.
While the HAL had insisted then that the helicopters were safe, it was earlier this year that former MoS for defence Rao Inderjit Singh, in response to a question in Parliament, had said India had acted on the complaint notice it had received from Quito (Ecuador capital) and also launched a probe.
According to a senior government official, “since India is keen on expanding its footprint in the LatAm region, it had also reached out to the government of that country offering to train its pilots”.
The offer was made to Ecuador as the country had lost 22 commandos in a major crash which reportedly occurred due to human error.
Since 2002, 14 military and two civilian Dhruv helicopters have met with accidents, out of which 11 took place in India and five abroad. Of these 16 accidents, 12 occurred due to human error and environmental factors while four others took place due to technical reasons.