Hyderabad: Parking slots outside Hyderabad’s Begumpet airport were only half filled on Friday, the second day of the biennial Aero Show, while on the tarmac inside, there were just over a dozen aircraft on display—a far cry from previous editions which used to have several rows of aircraft lined up.

The show, held in Hyderabad since 2008 and renamed Wings India for the current edition, was missing not just the civil aviation minister—till recently Ashok Gajapathi Raju—and Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, but also major international airlines, top officials of India’s market leader IndiGo as well as state-run carrier Air India, which is also a sponsor of the event.

Also missing was a star attraction of the event—aerobatic displays that have over the years drawn large crowds of spectators.

“We were frankly expecting a better turnout at the show but were sort of disappointed to see top state and central officials give the event a miss," said a participant who has attended previous editions of the Hyderabad show.

On the evening of 7 March, a day before Wings India 2018 was scheduled to begin, Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu announced the withdrawal of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) ministers Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Y.S. Chowdhary from the Union cabinet, over disagreements with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Hours after it began, several participants were heard grumbling about the lacklustre lineup at the event, being organized jointly by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), the ministry of civil aviation and the Airports Authority of India (AAI).

“It is comparatively thanda (cool) this time around at the Aero Show as the previous years saw many more companies and important aviation personalities attend the show," said a public relations executive who declined to be named.

For aviation enthusiasts, however, Wings India 2018 did have some things to look forward to.

The India-made Dornier 228 aircraft, developed by Hindustan Aeronautical Ltd, Dassault Aviation’s Falcon 8, Embraer Executive Aircraft Phenom 300/Legacy 500, Honda Aircraft Co.’s HondaJet, Hansa 2-seater aircraft, Aerotech FMs Glider, and ATR 72-600 were among the aircraft on display on the tarmac.

But several visitors were not enthused by the lineup as they reminisced about the large numbers of aircraft that used to be on display in earlier editions of the event. The turnout on the second day was also disappointing.

“There is hardly any crowd on the second day of the event... this never used to be the case in the previous editions," said a Hyderabad-based journalist, declining to be named.

“I felt the food court was more vibrant as it had more options than the aircraft static display, where only a few planes were parked," the journalist added.

Meanwhile, there were murmurs in the local media that the event was being merged with the Bengaluru-hosted Aero India show. While the Bengaluru event hosts both civil and military aviation firms, the Hyderabad show is a purely civil aviation affair.

Ficci director general Dilip Chenoy defended Wings India 2018 and said it was a very focused show on regional connectivity, unlike previous editions.

The idea was to get state governments, AAI, flight operators and some foreign firms to look at all the aspects of regional connectivity, Chenoy explained.

“Nearly 300 meetings with airport operators, state governments, and other stakeholders were organized. We want to understand ways to make routes sustainable and increase connectivity," he added.

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