Ecuador’s president cancels India trip

Experts view it as fallout of recent cancellation of Dhruv helicopter contract

In what may be seen as another blow to India’s hope of turning into an export hub for defence equipment, Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, has cancelled a planned visit (on November 4) to India, citing political crisis in his country. Although Ecuador is currently experiencing a political uprising, experts view the cancellation as a fallout of the recent snapping of a Dhruv helicopter contract with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Speaking to FE, ambassador of Ecuador to India Mentor Villagomez said: “We have conveyed to India’s ministry of external Affairs that due to political problems in Ecuador, the president has postponed his visit.”

Last week, Ecuador had ended a contract with HAL that sold seven military helicopters to the Latin American nation. At least four of the Dhruv helicopters delivered between 2009 and 2012 have crashed. One was assigned to transport Correa, though he wasn’t in the aircraft at the time.

According to agency reports, the Ecuadorian defence minister had recently announced that two of the helicopters crashed because of mechanical problems. In addition, getting spare components for the choppers from India had proven to be problematic. At least two of those helicopter crashes were linked to pilot errors.

Incidentally, Ecuador has lost more than half of its Dhruv fleet in less than five years of operations. The first aircraft was lost on October 28, 2009; the second on February 22 2014; the third on January 13, 2015 and the most recent reportedly on January 27, 2015. While at least one of these incidents has been attributed to pilot error, a loss rate of close to 60% is significant.

Moreover, concern has been mounting in the defence services and overseas customers of the state-owned HAL over growing numbers of crashes of its planes. Incidents involving engine failure, poor maintenance of either the SU-30 MKI for the Indian Air force the Dornier for the Coast Guard, or the Dhruv crashes in Ecuador earlier this year, has put defence public sector undertaking (DPSU) in an embarrassing situation.

When contacted by FE, Gopal Sutar, chief of media communications, HAL, said: “The matter is under scrutiny and we will get back to you in due course.”

Citing senior officials at HAL, a TV channel had reported, “The HAL officials have said that they are yet to receive any official word on cancellation of the contract with HAL. They insist that all spare components have been provided on time and that they had not been provided with any investigation reports indicating mechanical failures on the helicopters.”

Speaking to FE on condition of anonymity, insiders in HAL have accepted that there have been problems related to servicing of the helicopters in that country and delay in dispatching teams and parts has been a problem for a while.

Back in India, with the services, including the Indian Air Force (IAF), voicing their concerns over the Su-30MKI multi-role fighter fleet plagued by frequent “engine failure-in-air and engine-related problems” and poor operational serviceability, senior officials of HAL and their main customer IAF had a review meeting on October 15. “The IAF officers had a long list of concerns that needed to be addressed by the company,” a source said.

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