Having led GE infrastructure business in India since 2003, Pratyush Kumar, took over as President of Boeing India in December 2012.
Mr. Kumar heads Boeing India at a time when both the civil aviation and military segments are in expansion mode in the country and are looking towards mordernisation. He spoke to The Hindu. Excerpts:
How important is India to your scheme of things in the region?
India is very important in the region for us both from the civil and defence side. We are here in India for the long haul. We have been here for 70 years but looking forward to many more years. We have plans to focus on two important pillars of our strategy in India. One is making our customers more competitive and helping them win. That is basically through not only offering the best possible product but supporting those products — in maintenance, ensuring fuel efficiency, bringing to them the best possible capabilities to operate more efficiently. We have this concept of digital airlines — how do you bring disparate information, big data to bear, so we can have aircraft available and ready to fly all the time. That they’re maintained, they’re connected to the other systems the airlines have, so they work effectively. It is all about total service to our customer, so they win. The second pillar of our strategy is being the premier catalyst for creating an ecosystem for aerospace in India. This means training a new class of engineers, workers who will work in the factories, in-country service capabilities, training of the crews and everything that comes along with that, it’s about creating new suppliers in-country to supply components to companies in aerospace. In the aerospace industry, there are no shortcuts as the process has to be complete to meet the standards. It really requires a huge amount of competency-building to create a manufacturing set-up in India…. And we are committed to that.
Do you plan to join hands or enter into partnerships in India to provide value-added services such as training?
It’s a combination of things. We’ll have our internal set-up, we’ll have our partnerships. We’d like to do it mostly with partnerships. What we bring to bear is our knowhow and experience and unless we partner, we don’t really build capabilities. We have partnered IIT Mumbai to create the Centre for Aerospace, Innovation and Research or NCAIR. It’s about getting the best of IIT, the best of Boeing, the Department of Science and Technology, and now HAL and BEL have also joined to create two things — cutting edge research and help industry become capable in aerospace. That is the kind of partnership we have in place. We also have a partnership with Indian Institute of Science on networking capability for aviation.
The Dreamliners are back in the air, and Air India is upbeat because its turnaround plan rests on the 787. How is that working out?
We are thankful that this is behind us. The Dreamliner 787 is a fantastic product. What this does is make Air India (AI) competitive by giving them an aircraft that is 20 per cent fuel-efficient and really gives its customers an experience that is unparalleled. When they fly long haul, you arrive refreshed because of the pressure differential in the cabin. This aircraft will allow AI to do two things simultaneously. The Dreamliner will attract new customers, and keep them, because it’s a great aircraft from a customer-comfort point of view, and also it allows them to be competitive because it saves fuel. So, when AI says this is a big part of its turnaround plan, we are totally behind it. There was a hiccup for three months in the delivery schedule but we’ll be back again to the schedule with AI. We have worked it out.
How do you see the emergence of the Indian market in the aviation sector? One of the studies has positioned that by 2020, India will be the second largest aviation market. What potential do you see for India and what is the opportunity for Boeing?
If you look at the macro situation, they look favourable. The biggest driver of civil aviation is the growth in economy. If you look across the world, India region will have to grow 7-8 per cent just to sustain bringing 200 million people into the workforce. We are very bullish about India. This is one of the fastest growing regions in the world. There was a hiccup in the last one year primarily based on two factors. One was the slowdown of the economy. Second, when Kingfisher stopped flying, there was some rational pricing that was brought up to the market. There was clearly elasticity of demand that slowed down traffic. I think long term it will come back to high growth rates we have seen historically.
What is Boeing looking at in the Indian market, civil aviation or defence?
We are looking at both segments very bullishly. On the civil aviation side, as the market grows, we want to get our fair share in the single aisle market, and have a compelling offering on the twin aisle where we should be winning versus competition quite handsomely. We are optimistic about this market. One the defence side, it is all about how do you modernise the capability of the Indian armed forces. The C-17 strategic airlift aircraft, the P-8I maritime reconnaissance, surveillance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, the two helicopter Chinook and Apache helicopters are very important tools/platforms to modernise the Indian armed forces. We are very fortunate to be playing a part in that. We look at this market quite favourably.
Will the recent controversies in the Ministry of Defence impact the modernisation progress of the Indian armed forces?
Our view is doing business transparently and ethically advances everyone’s agenda. We think that in this working-day and age, ethics is a competitive advantage. We pay a lot of attention to making sure we do business by the spirit and letter of the law and our policies. Transparency in procurement is going to be the mantra. Lack thereof will slow things down. More transparency is better for the Ministry of Defence (MoD), for the armed forces and for the suppliers.
What kind of aviation equipment are you proposing for Indian armed forces?
We have sold the C-17 strategic airlifter to the Indian Air Force to enhance their capabilities in airlift. We have sold the P-8I maritime reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft to the Indian Navy. We are in discussions to finalise the contract for the Apache and Chinook helicopters in the attack and heavy lift competitions with the MoD. Boeing has a complete slew of proven, reliable and relevant offerings from satellites to helicopters to large transport aircraft to fighter jets. That is the uniqueness of Boeing. We have the commercial side and defence side and these are synergistic. When you have a platform like the 737, you can take that and modify it into a P-8I defence platform. Not a lot of companies in the world can do that.