Unfazed by the probe by the Indian and Italian governments into charges of corruption in the Rs. 3,727-crore contract for 12 AW-101 VVIP helicopters for the Indian Air Force, helicopter major AgustaWestland is keen to expand its footprint in the Indian military and civil aviation markets.
“Notwithstanding the current difficulties, we need to expand our presence in India,” said Jackie Callcut, Chief Executive Officer, AgustaWestland India.
Talking to The Hindu on the sidelines of India’s maiden Naval and Maritime Expo (NAMEXPO-2013) that got under way here on Monday, Ms. Callcut, who insisted the company was in India for a ‘long haul’, said AgustaWestland wished to make a mark in the civil aviation sector through its joint venture with Tata Sons to produce AW119 helicopters in India. “We are bringing more technologies into Indian civil aerospace market,” she said, adding India’s ‘troubled transport sector’ could benefit if the moneyed class made a shift to travel by helicopter.
JV with Tata Sons
Vimal Nagpal, head of business for the company’s India subsidiary, said the JV with Tata Sons was progressing. “We’ve begun to construct the infrastructure, with the long-term plan to shift an assembly line from Philadelphia to Hyderabad,” he said.
On the VVIP chopper controversy, Ms. Callcut said the Indian investigation was largely linked to what was happening in Italy, where the next court hearing was due on October 8. “We welcome investigations, as we don’t have any reason to be ashamed of. Nor do we have anything to hide. We still think we have the best machine ... We’ve heard from Indian Air Force that the three helicopters delivered to them are absolutely the right equipment. The firestorm [that the controversy raked up in the initial days] was not based on facts. The environment is much saner now,” she said, choosing to blame the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) for being ill-informed in its reports.
Rebutting allegations that procurement specifications were altered and trial evaluation was influenced to swing the deal in favour of her company, she said the charges were misplaced. Ms. Callcut had earlier written to CAG citing that the alteration of cabin height requirements of the helicopter hadn’t led to disqualification of any aircraft in the fray.
FDI in defence
She found off-putting the FDI cap in defence, which is 26 per cent at the moment, and hoped for ‘a bit more liberalisation’. Despite controversies, the company’s AW109 is taking part in the tender for 56 units of Naval Utility Helicopters. “The bid procedure for down-selection is on,” she said.
Mr. Nagpal claimed that the upgrade of seven AgustaWestland-made Seaking helicopters in service with the Indian Navy under the ‘Recovery’ programme had increased the operational availability of the potent anti-submarine warfare and commando-lift helicopters.