Why Aero India lands on Bengaluru tarmac

Crowd-puller:The throng at the 2017 Aero India show in Bengaluru.Bhagya Prakash KBhagya Prakash K  

Bengaluru’s civil and military air infrastructure, its brand as an aerospace city, the ease it provides for hosting large international fraternities and some push from overseas participants and politicians might have worked to keep Aero India with it for the 12th time, according to voices from the aerospace and defence industry.

In recent weeks, Lucknow had cropped up unofficially as its challenger until the Defence Ministry on Saturday announced Bengaluru as the venue for Aero India 2019 in February. The “rumour” about an uncharted Lucknow being the new venue stayed alive after Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman ambiguously said last month that many other States wanted to host the biennial show and conference.

“I am glad about this decision,” said Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (retired), who was the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the India Air Force’s Headquarters Training Command, Bengaluru, during 2003-04. (The Air Force Station, Yelahanka, where the air show is held, falls under the Command.) Lucknow’s Bakshi ka Talaab Air Station, which was said to be the alternative site, did not compare in any way to the Yelahanka base in size, radio aids or logistics, he said.

“The entire aerospace ecosystem of the country is right here in Bengaluru. Foreign defence and aerospace companies that participate in air shows would not see any logic or relevance in doing business in Lucknow, especially with no prior notice,” he said.

Protest against timing?

In 2015 and 2017, the venue and date of the next show were not announced, in a departure from the custom set at the inaugural event. The buzz in July-August was that the venue would be shifted and the date would be advanced to October or November this year. Did the international participants protest against a new timing at short notice?

This might be highly possible, Air Marshal Pandey said. “Most of them have their budgeting from January to December, in their financial year. You cannot suddenly impose a new date and a financial burden on them for 2018. They may have had to skip the event if it were held this year,” he said.

Well-proven logistics

Air Marshal Pandey said foreigners could directly land in Bengaluru unlike in the case of Lucknow. The city’s cab services, hotels and logistics would stack up better than what Lucknow could offer.

Venues of international air shows are chosen after much consideration. For the past 100 years, Farnborough in the U.K. and Le Bourget near Paris had been the world’s two premier air shows. If not on scale, Aero India in Bengaluru came close to them with its civil and military focus, said D.R. Subramanyam, vice-president of the Society of Indian Aerospace Technologies and Industries (SIATI) and managing director of a small enterprise, SLN Technologies P Ltd., which supplies black boxes, or flight data recorders, to Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. for Sukhoi-30Mki fighter planes and the light utility helicopters.

Mr. Subramanyam said small and medium enterprises concentrated in and around Bengaluru were increasingly aligning themselves with Indian and global aerospace majors. They would have skipped a distant non-Bengaluru venue and lost an opportunity to interact with global majors.

Bad experiences

Participants suffered many inconveniences when the DefExpo was shifted twice from Delhi to an ill-prepared Goa in 2016 and Kanchipuram in 2018, he said. Any experiment with a new venue should be planned a few years ahead.

Defence Ministry officials deny it, but senior officials of the Ministry, the Air Force and the Uttar Pradesh administration were discreetly visiting Lucknow and assessing the amenities there since around mid-July.

Internal meetings were held and defence enterprise Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd was alerted “to be prepared for Lucknow”, said a person in the know of the developments.