US-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. plans to design and manufacture civilian and military helicopters in India for the local and Asia-Pacific market in four years, the first time a foreign aircraft company will use the country’s aerospace know-how to make choppers for the overseas market.
“We are looking at manufacturing an indigenous helicopter by 2015-16. We already have the helicopters that are suitable for the Indian climate,” said Arvind Jeet Singh Walia, managing director (India and South Asia) at Sikorsky Aircraft. “We intend developing further technologies to cater to defence requirements for high-altitude and high-performance machines.”
Sikorsky, a unit of American military contractor United Technologies Corp. and one of the world’s largest helicopter makers, has an existing tie-up with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd, a Tata group company, to make helicopter cabins for the global market.
A boom in India’s civil aviation market, among the fastest growing in the world, and a military upgradation plan that may be worth $100 billion (Rs.4.5 trillion) in the next 10 years, is persuading global aircraft makers to form joint ventures with local companies to take advantage of the business opportunity. India has an offset clause for high-value defence purchases that requires overseas companies to base part of the manufacturing in the country.
At the same time, global aerospace firms, facing a shortage of skilled workers back home, are seeking to take advantage of local talent groomed by India’s nascent aerospace industry, which is led by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the only company that has the capability of manufacturing helicopters in the country.
Roughly a quarter of the 637,000 aerospace workers in the US could be eligible for retirement this year, raising fears that the country may face a skills shortage in factories that make commercial and military aircraft, Aerospace Industries Association president and chief executive Marion Blakey was cited as saying by trade publication Airport Business on 12 January.
HAL’s home-grown aerospace products include the Tejas light combat aircraft, the Dhruv advanced light helicopter and the intermediate jet trainer. Three new helicopters, including the light combat helicopter and the light utility helicopter, are being built for the Armed Forces.
HAL has orders for 1,500 helicopters, including 100 Dhruvs, 300 light utility helicopters and 400 Indian multi-role helicopters.
Besides this, HAL has orders for 159 Dhruvs from the army and the air force.
“Manufacturing indigenous helicopters is eventually possible for Sikorsky,” said Dhiraj Mathur, India leader for aerospace and defence at audit and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers International Ltd. “Essentially, it will be shifting some of its manufacturing facilities to India in a phased manner. It will be highly beneficial if Sikorsky can make India a hub for the Asia-Pacific region.”
However, the 26% limit on stakes in military projects held by overseas companies is discouraging investment, he said.
Walia said his company would be keen to increase its holding in local firms as and when the government relaxes the limit.
He estimates India’s market potential for the company at $21.4 billion in 2011-31. Out of this, $14.4 billion will be military-related and the rest for civil use.
Tata Advanced Systems has set up a unit in Hyderabad to make cabins for the Sikorsky S-92, following a June 2009 agreement.
“As of now, this partnership is restricted to component manufacturing,” Walia said. “We will explore future possibilities based on certain milestones set by the joint venture company.”
The Tata group’s public relations company said the association with Sikorsky was restricted to component manufacturing and nothing had been finalized for the future.
Sikorsky, apart from Italy’s AgustaWestland NV, is in the race to sell 123 helicopters for general use by different departments of the Indian military as well as other agencies. The deal is valued at $4 billion.
“We have already sold five Sikorsky VVIP helicopters in India. We just signed an agreement to sell one more to the government of Maharashtra and are in dialogue with police department of the state,” Walia said.
The company also plans to set up a maintenance, overhaul and repair facility for helicopters in India. “India has a huge talent base and skills that can be exploited to achieve our objectives,” he said.
Tata Advanced Systems, which focuses on aerospace, defence, homeland security and disaster management, signed an agreement in mid-February with Lockheed Martin Corp. to form a joint venture, Tata Lockheed Martin Aerostructures, to build components for the C-130 aircraft produced by the US company.
Tata Industries Ltd, another group company, formed a joint venture with Boeing Co. in 2008 to manufacture defence-related aerospace components in India for export to Boeing and its clients worldwide.
The deals have boosted the Tata group’s chances of becoming the preferred local partner of US firms bidding to sell medium multi-role combat aircraft to India in the world’s largest fighter jet deal.