The one thing that stands out in BJP’s manifesto is aviation. Can promises fly?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi displays a copy of the ruling BJP's election manifesto for general election 2024. (Photo: Reuters)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi displays a copy of the ruling BJP's election manifesto for general election 2024. (Photo: Reuters)


  • The BJP election manifesto big on civil aviation but the devil lies in the details

As party manifestos go, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) manifesto for the upcoming general elections is fairly standard, with promises about its plans if re-elected.

However, what stands out in this year's BJP manifesto is its significant emphasis on the civil aviation sector, which is mentioned 11 times in the 76-page document.

Arguably, this is the first time the sector has received such extensive attention in a party manifesto. But signs that the ruling party was focusing on aviation were evident during its last term as well, as evidenced by mentions in the budget speeches of finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman over the years.

There is no denying the need for what the BJP manifesto promises — establishing a commercial aircraft manufacturing ecosystem in the country and designing a policy for aerospace manufacturing, especially aimed at developing an indigenous passenger aircraft.

The manifesto also discusses transforming India into a global hub for aviation manufacturing and Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) facilities, formulating a master plan for airport transformation, expanding international airports, and establishing domestic international hubs.

While these plans are ambitious and forward-thinking, the real challenge will be in the details of their implementation.

India’s venture into civilian aircraft production began in the early 1960s with state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) starting licensed production of Airbus helicopters. Thanks to the global stature that Indian companies have achieved in research and development, they have become integral to the aircraft production of major global manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus.

Although production of civilian aircraft represents about 6-8% of the total aircraft production cost and is a viable future endeavour for India, several factors need consideration before this can happen.

Currently, establishing a final assembly line (FAL) in India, where assembly, painting, and final touches are done, may not be timely. While a FAL would create jobs, the economic feasibility is questionable with 80-85% of the parts being imported.

Other challenges include logistical issues like transporting aircraft engines, which require trucks with precise technical specifications for smooth transit and special handling.

Another significant promise in the BJP’s manifesto is the focus on building a robust MRO system, given that Indian airlines have ordered over 1,100 aircraft recently. While this is a viable goal, some fundamental changes are required, like opening defence MRO to civil MRO services and vice versa. This integration would enhance job creation, manpower utilization, and improve the overall quality and global standing of the Indian MRO ecosystem.

A key factor in transforming Indian airports into regional international hubs is the implementation of rapid mass transit systems, like trains that can move hundreds of passengers between terminals. Currently, only Delhi airport is considering such a facility. The need for similar facilities elsewhere raises questions about land availability and whether the costs will align with the anticipated profits.

These are the challenges that need addressing if the BJP’s promises are to materialize. Otherwise, they may end up as many manifesto promises do — unfulfilled post-election.

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