Bangalore: Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, India’s state-owned aircraft maker, and Canada’s flight simulator maker CAE Inc., will jointly set up a simulator school in Bangalore with an investment of Rs200 crore to train pilots fly twin-engined helicopters, the first such in the country.
HAL, which is expecting a “substantial order” for its Dhruv advanced light helicopters from the Indian armed forces, hopes to train pilots on simulators to bring down the costs of training on the homegrown twin-engine 5.5 tonne chopper. The facility, which could also be used to train civil pilots, is slated to start next year and will have cockpits of atleast three other helicopter models. India has around 170 civilian registered helicopters of different makes, but the major user of choppers in the country is the armed forces that own several hundreds of helicopters.
A file picture of Dhruv, an advanced light helicopter made by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. HAL is expecting a big order for the helicopters from the armed forces
India may require around 300 Dhruv helicopters, of which 250 would be used by the armed forces, in the next few years, said Ashok K. Baweja, chairman of HAL.
HAL has delivered 67 Dhruv helicopters to Indian Air Force, the Army and the Coast Guard since the helicopter began production in 2002.
Each Dhruv is priced at Rs35 crore around $1.5 million or Rs6 crore cheaper than helicopters of similar class in the international market, Baweja said. HAL has sold eight Dhruv’s to civilian customers such as ONGC Ltd.
The company is investing Rs200 crore in a repair, maintenance and overhaul (MRO) facility for Dhruv helicopters, which would employ 550 professionals.
HAL estimates around 1,000 pilots would be trained in the simulator school, which is expected to break even in around eight years.
Analysts say the acceptance of armed forces to train pilots on simulators, the cost benefit ratio of sending helicopter pilots to Bangalore from forward areas and the willingness of the regulators to endorse “synthetic” or training on simulators are the main challenges.
“The regulators need to catch up by modifying the rules that will count the time spent on training in simulators equivalent to flying the machines,” said Air Marshal (retd) K. Sridharan, president of the Rotary Wing Society of India, a body of helicopter pilots and engineers in the country.
“Will customers find it cost effective to send pilots to Bangalore for training on simulators?” asked Sridharan, who said, similar simulator centres are coming up in Singapore and Dubai.
HAL said it would cost Rs2 lakh per hour of pilot training on Dhruv currently, and the simulator training would bring down costs and also help in increasing the number of trained pilots. “It will cost one-third the cost (on a simulator) of training on a helicopter every hour,” said HAL Rotary Wing chief test pilot Wg Cdr C.D. Upadhyay.
HAL said it would begin trials of a high-powered engine Shakti, co-developed with Turbomeca, a unit of France’s Safran Group, for the Dhruv and also trials of the helicopter fitted with weapons such as rockets and bombs.
Currently, the armed forces use the utility version of Dhruv.