Hindustan Aeronautics repair facility plan hits air pocket

By Fakir Balaji, IANS,

Bangalore : Turbulence in the civil aviation sector has forced the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) to put on hold plans to build an aerospace MRO (maintenance, repair and overhauling) facility at its airport here.

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“We have delayed our plans to foray into the MRO business due to recession in the civil aviation industry. We are watching the situation. We will invest in the new facility when the sector revives and business becomes viable,” HAL chairman Ashok K. Baweja told IANS.

Ever since civilian and cargo operations shifted to the new Bangalore international airport at Devanahalli, about 40 km from this tech hub in May, the defence aerospace behemoth has been mulling an MRO facility for the civilian aircraft at the old airport, which remains grossly under-utilised.

“We want to make optimal use of the airport infrastructure and make up for the loss of revenue (about Rs.1.5 billion) generated annually from the civilian operations. Foraying into the civil aviation sector is part of our expansion and diversification plans,” Baweja said.

The 34-year-old HAL airport is currently used for flying tests and training sorties by HAL and the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots. The aircraft of heads of state and dignitaries like the president and the prime minister are allowed to land and take off there. Chartered flights and private jets are also permitted to use the airport after regulatory clearances for a prescribed fee.

Besides a 2.5-km runway, the airport has hangars, fuelling and other facilities required for full-fledged operations, including an MRO unit.

“We intend to leverage our domain expertise and infrastructure built for making aircraft, components and spares and servicing them for the defence sector, mainly the IAF,” Baweja said.

As the hub of aerospace industry and a major destination for domestic and international airlines, Bangalore boasts of having the third busiest airport in the country, with about 350 landings and take-offs daily. The IAF also has a training base at Yelahanka, about 10 km from the new airport.

“An MRO facility will enable state-run and private airlines to service, repair or overhaul their aircraft at lower cost and in lesser time than presently when operators are forced to fly overseas for such functions,” Baweja observed.

As part of its diversification plans, the $2-billion HAL is set to launch a large aircraft programme on the civil side. It is in talks with foreign partners, including Russian firms, to design, develop and manufacture small and medium-size multi-role transport aircraft for passenger and cargo operations.

“We will showcase our plans for the civil aviation sector at the upcoming air show (Aero India) in Bangalore in mid-February, 2009. We will be manufacturing the 14-seater Saras civil aircraft designed and developed by National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) in Bangalore,” Baweja said.