The government is taking the right policy initiatives for ‘Make in India’ in defence to take off, says French multinational Airbus. What is required now is that the industry gets some large-scale projects. Airbus already has the experience of working with the Indian companies and counts it as a key advantage when it comes to implementing ‘Make in India’ defence programmes. Over 45 suppliers contribute in excess of $500 million annually to the Airbus commercial aircraft supply chain. In an interview with Huma Siddiqui, Airbus India president and managing director Pierre de Bausset said “we started this journey because we believed the passion of Indian suppliers and their desire to become globally-competitive”. Excerpts:
What is your view of the recent policy changes made by the government to push for indigenous manufacturing in defence under Make in India?
It is clear that the government is working hard on building a pragmatic policy framework to realise its vision of ‘Make in India’. It is engaging with both the private industry in India and the foreign suppliers like us. Moreover, it is understandable that a country like India would want to be self-sufficient as far as its military requirements are concerned. We welcome this and we are more than prepared to be a part of this process. Airbus has an extremely credible track record of working in India and with the Indian industry. What is needed now is for the industry to get some large-scale contracts to jumpstart foreign direct investment and manufacturing activity.
But do these policy changes prompt you to set up a manufacturing base in India?
The policy changes do uplift investor sentiment and they are pragmatic. We already have some programmes under way which once they fructify — meaning once we get the contracts from the ministry of defence, will allow us to have a defence manufacturing base in India. For example, we will support Tata to build the C295W military transport aircraft and have a partnership with Mahindra to produce military helicopters.
You signed a MoU with the Gujarat government regarding Dholera. Do you plan to build helicopters there?
Airbus has signed a MoU with the government of Gujarat to assist in planning the infrastructure development of Dholera Special Investment Region such that an aerospace and defence manufacturing cluster can be developed there.
We are in touch with several states to identify the right location for setting up the final assembly line for the ‘Panther’ helicopter under the frame of the Naval Utility Helicopter programme. We are certainly looking at Dholera SIR as one of the potential sites but obviously our plan will take-off once the contract is awarded.
What is the status of the Coast Guard competition for 14 Twin Engine Heavy Helicopters?
The EC725, now marketed globally as the H225M, has been selected by the Indian Coast Guard for this requirement and we are in the final contract stage with the customer. A MRO facility for these choppers is proposed in Goa close to the customer’s operational base as part of our offer.
Tell us more about this MRO for the EC725 in Goa that’s part of your offer.
It’s going to be a green-field project. The proposed facility would include intermediate & depot level maintenance. All 14 EC725 will be re-assembled and flight-tested in Goa. In addition, the MRO will enable a Performance Based Logistic (PBL) support service that Airbus is offering to the customer to ensure maximum fleet availability of the choppers.
Will the C295W programme pave the way for the Indian industry to make a leap in terms of industrial capabilities?
Yes. The C295W proposal is currently with the Ministry of Defence and is advancing. This programme holds out the promise of creating a world-class private-sector aircraft-manufacturing capability in India within an ambitious timeframe, and nurturing a widened supplier base with an increasingly skilled workforce.
Since we are on the question of partnering with the Indian industry, it is worthwhile to mention that it is not something new to Airbus. Though it is primarily on the commercial aircraft side at the moment, we already have an industrial engagement with India which is unmatched by any other foreign OEM.
What will it take to create an aerospace and defence industrial ecosystem in India?
Let me explain by taking the example of what we have accomplished in India. I told you earlier that our yearly procurement from India stands at over $500 million from more than 45 suppliers. This is where we are today but this journey started with small steps. Now, for India to have a robust aerospace and defence industrial ecosystem you have to do something similar but at a much bigger scale.