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Hyderabad emerges as global aerospace industry hub

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Hyderabad: From manufacturing cabins of the US president’s helicopters to fuselages of the world’s most advanced combat helicopter – it’s all happening here in Hyderabad. After pharma and IT, the Telangana capital is emerging as a key hub in the aerospace and defence sectors, attracting some of the biggest names in the global industry.

With a strong presence of defence and research laboratories, public sector undertakings, its IT strength, premier academic institutions, infrastructure and several small and medium enterprises, the city offers the right eco-system for the sector. The announcement of Boeing and Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) to establish a centre to manufacture aerostructures for AH-64 Apache helicopters early this month came as yet another boost to Hyderabad, competing with Bengaluru which is considered a major hub of the sector on civil side.

Besides TASL, which already has four units in partnership with Sikorsky, Lockheed Martin, Pilatus and RUAG Aviation, some other players have also zeroed in on Hyderabad to locate their units.

Bharat Forge plans to set up two major defence-related units in the city, one of them a joint venture with a global player, while Voith is shifting its base from Chennai.

The existing aerospace Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at Adibatla houses all TASL’s units and some other players have set up operations in the adjacent location. With no space left for units, the authorities have already started identifying land for three more aerospace parks.

TASL has already manufactured and delivered 95 cabins for Sikorsky S-92 helicopters. In October it handed over first air-to-air refuelling pod structure to Cobham Mission Systems (CMS) for use on the Airbus A-400M.

Under partnership with Lockheed Martin, TASL is assembling the empennage (tail assembly) of the C-130J Super Hercules military transport aircraft.

A dedicated facility is currently under construction for manufacturing aerostructures for the Pilatus PC-12 ‘green aircraft’ of Swiss-based Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. Under another joint venture with RUAG Aviation of Switzerland, TASL is building a facility for assembly of wings and fuselage of the Dornier 228 NG aircraft.

TASL is also executing a mission control and communication centre for a major missile defence programme of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Hyderabad is also expected to be the base for TASL’s proposed joint venture with Airbus to replace the Indian Air Force fleet of 56 Avro aircraft with the Airbus C-295.

“Tatas are going to make the C-295 in Hyderabad. Even if each aircraft is valued Rs.80 crore to Rs.100 crore ($12 million-$15 million), 30 to 50 percent offset is a huge opportunity,” former DRDO V. K. Saraswat said recently.

Saraswat, now a member of the Planning Commission successor NITI Aayog, believes Telangana, with its initiatives to improve ease of doing business, is in a good position to attract major investments in the sector.

Pointing out that the industry offers $80 billion offset opportunities by 2025, the former DRDO chief said the state should set a goal of attracting $10 billion and work toward this.

Saraswat, the former scientific adviser to the defence minister, has also proposed a centre of excellence for smart manufacturing in aerospace and defence in Hyderabad.

“We are ready to allot land and provide other facilities once the central government clears the project,” Arvind Kumar, Telangana’s secretary for industry and commerce, told IANS.

An aviation training academy is also planned at the old airport at Begumpet in collaboration with Aerocampus Aquitaine, France.

To give further impetus to the sector, the state government also plans to launch an incubator on the lines of T-Hub, a facility created for IT incubators.

Officials say Hyderabad attracted about Rs.1,000 crore investment during the last one year and is looking at an investment of Rs.2,500 crore more with the setting up of new aerospace parks.

The state government is currently drafting a separate policy for the aerospace and defence sector.

“Based on requirements of the industry, a specific policy will be prepared to address their concerns,” said Arvind Kumar.

The policy is expected to be unveiled during the Aeroshow, the civil aviation exhibition, scheduled to be held here in March 2016.

If the state is taking several initiatives, the private sector is also not lagging. GMR, the developer and operator of the world-class international airport in Hyderabad, has also set up GMR Aerospace and Industrial Park in the airport area.

The park has a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility called GMR Aero Technic and CFM regional training centre. Pratt & Whitney, a leader in aircraft engine manufacturing, also opened its India training centre, the third such after the US and China.

Air India also recently set up an MRO facility at Hyderabad airport to service its aircraft.

A major strength of Hyderabad is the presence of about 1,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs), some of which are making parts of missiles, launchers, satellites, aircraft, submarine, armaments and simulators. Some crucial components of the Mangalyaan Mars mission were also manufactured in the city.

“Some of the SMEs are supplying parts of submarines to countries like Israel, France and Germany,” said an official.

With global leaders in the industry looking at Hyderabad, the state is also working with SMEs to encourage product integration and upgrade them from tier III suppliers to tier II suppliers.

(This is a part of a series of articles from IANS that look back at the year that was for a variety of subjects, running up to the New Year. Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at m.shafeeeq@ians.in)

IANS