Mumbai: Airbus has several opportunities in India, in defence as well as in commercial aviation. While the Toulouse-based company is looking at Indian Air Force’s programme to replace Avros with its C295 aircraft, it will bid for Indian navy’s naval utility helicopter (NUH) and naval multi-role helicopter (NMRH) orders and Coast Guard’s twin engine helicopters tender. The aerospace major also hopes to expand market share in commercial aviation, especially in the wide-bodied segment where it trails competitor Boeing. Airbus India’s president and managing director Pierre de Bausset says the company hopes to win more wide body aircraft orders in future. Edited excerpts:
What are the opportunities Airbus India is looking for in the defence space in India?
The needs of India are tremendous. Ordering under the previous government, as well as the present government, haven’t been quite in line with what the armed forces were expecting, due to budget constraints. We have a number of ongoing projects that we are working on.
The one that stands out is the Avro replacement program which we intend to serve with cargo aircraft C295. We will be doing it in partnership with the Tatas (Tata Advanced Systems).
It will come with a final assembly line in India that will be owned by the Tatas and will feed a large ecosystem of Indian companies. The Avro replacement program is initially for 56 airplanes but also holds potential for the navy’s requirements. Coast guards could also be interested in these aircraft. The other opportunities are in helicopters, mostly for navy’s helicopter requirements that include naval utility helicopter (NUH) and naval multi role helicopter (NMRH). We are also hoping to get order for 14 twin engine helicopters from coast guards.
Which defence deals do you expect to fructify in the coming future?
The deal for 111 naval utility helicopters (NUH) is more likely to happen before the one for naval multi role helicopter (NMRH).
They have issued request for information (RFI) and they now need to issue EoI (expression of interest) for both the Indian strategic partner and foreign OEMs (original equipment manufacturer). We could see a RFP (request for proposal) for 111 naval utility helicopters probably within this year. The process is expected to be long. For NUH, we will be offering the Panther helicopter (AS565). With a new model, price is going to be important. But, it’s important that the government and armed forces look at side benefit for the industry.
Indian airlines Vistara and IndiGo that fly Airbus aircraft are looking to expand their international operations. Does this provide an opportunity for Airbus?
The next step for Vistara and IndiGo is to make their domestic network denser. Vistara and IndiGo would like to cover whole of the domestic territory with good frequencies. There’s a lot of noise about the Vistara order, but I can’t comment on that. I can tell you that we are fighting (with Boeing) on it. The type of aeroplanes most relevant in the local market is A320, A319, A321, A320 Neo. A lot of them are already in service in India as these simplify operations.
A lot of airlines are concerned about commonality of fleet. However, there are also infrastructure constraints. So I think, the big cities should be served by bigger aircrafts. If you have a limited number of slots in airports like Delhi and Mumbai and you have an increasing number of passengers, you will need bigger aircrafts. In longer terms, there will be opportunities for A350 in India and who knows there could be one for the A380 too.
Several A320 Neo aircraft used by airlines like IndiGo and GoAir were earlier this year grounded due to Pratt & Whitney (P&W) engine issues. Have the issues with P&W engines been addressed?
I don’t expect new issues with P&W engine to crop up. A320 Neo aircraft powered by P&W engine is something new, revolutionary and gives tremendous savings. So it’s a big winner for airlines leaving aside the glitches. I think all the causes (for previous glitches) have been identified and addressed. Also, this comes at the same time when there is a tremendous ramp-up in the industry. We have given guidance that Airbus will be delivering 800 aircraft this year (2018). We are on track to meet this target. Last year, we delivered 45 aircraft to Indian carriers including a majority of A320 Neo airplanes, which included orders placed by lessors.
In India, while Airbus is leading when it comes to order book for narrow bodied aircraft, the same for company’s wide bodied aircraft is behind its competitor. How are you addressing this issue?
I think you should expect Airbus to have bigger presence in the wide bodied/double-aisled aircraft segment in future. We are behind in this segment because we didn’t win the huge wide bodied aircraft order from the national carrier Air India few years ago. However, now that we see private airlines ordering wide bodied aircraft, we feel that we have a pretty good chance to win some of these orders. You will see us in these races and see us expanding market share in the long range airplanes segment.
Indian airlines have a huge aircraft order book. But, the corresponding infrastructure for this is either poor or missing at Indian airports.
The country doesn’t have enough infrastructure. Many cities are planning to expand their current airports and also have second airport. The air traffic control (ATC) has to be looked at and addressed as intelligently as possibly. What is clear to me is that government is acutely aware of the issue. If all stakeholders work together intelligently, this challenge can be met. Also, development of MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul units) in this country is not happening at a pace as it should. I haven’t seen local investors invest full-fledgedly in MROs. If it hadn’t been on taxes and royalty at some airports, which have made it uneconomical for MROs in India, we wouldn’t see so many airplanes fly abroad for MRO services.