Asia-Pacific has long been appraised as the leader of the growing aviation industry and India is one of the brightest stars in region. It is without a doubt that the country loves helicopters as the Indian rotorcraft fleet is one of the largest in the world with more than 2000 machines utilized in the military segment alone. Regardless, fleet size aside, in terms of quality most of the helicopters are old and in need of replacement or renewal. Sadly, the country’s maintenance sector is very far from being amongst the leading rotorcraft repair industry players.
Despite 1.5 million engineers who graduated in India in 2014, it is estimated that only 4% to 7% of all technicians are actually fit for jobs in the core engineering sectors, such as aerospace, defence or electronics, according to OneIndia. Adding to the issue of skilled talent is, of course, the country’s regulations, under which most MRO procedures become unimaginably pricier than in the neighbouring countries. For instance, the service tax and value-added tax (VAT), the lack of which is generating growth in some neighbouring region countries, ensures that the Indian MRO services are 30% costlier than in such places such Sri Lanka or Singapore.
“The MRO challenges in the region are truly a hard egg to crack. Despite all issues, the market is still expected to grow at an annual rate of 7%, which means something has to be done and it needs to be done immediately,” shares Anatolij Legenzov, the CEO of Helisota. ”India’s IAF keeps supplementing its fleet by new, Russian-built machines. However, there is no clear strategy on how these aircraft will be maintained as the existing in-house MRO centres for IAF certainly will not be able to cope with the increased number of helicopters.”
Due to the ongoing projects such as ‘Make in India’, more and more foreign and Indian MRO joint ventures are being formed to keep up with the fleet growth. Nevertheless, most of these JVs include such companies as L-3 Aviation, Airbus Helicopters and other western enterprises, which, to be fair, are not the ones holding strong ties to the country’s aviation industry. As it is, Russian Helicopters rule the scene here and it seems that the situation is not going to change any time soon.
Recently, India has approved the purchase of additional 48 Mi-17V-5 helicopters. This deal would further deepen the already vast India's commitment to Russian choppers. According to RIA, the Indian air force has already received 121 Mi-17V-5 helicopters over the past five years, and has a total of over 300 Russian Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters in service. Responding to such growth, Russian Helicopters has announced its plans to retrofit a repair plant near Chandigarh at the Aero India 2015 show. Fair to say, it is a praiseworthy move by the manufacturer and the local maintenance community is expected to act accordingly; however, it seems that by the time being, it is still unable to cope.
“On the one hand, western OEMs and maintenance organizations seem to be very interested in the growing rotorcraft market of India. On the other hand, it seems like the Russian-built machines (for at least a while) are left without any guardians to take care of them. The Indian helicopter MRO market is projected to rise to the value of $3.9 billion by 2020. Seeing the recent decisions by the Indian government, it seems like the dominant piece of this pie will come from the maintenance of Mil helicopters. Thus, the lack of proper maintenance workforce and organizations combined with high taxes will most probably result in the IAF and other operators having to place trust into these machines to the qualified and experienced Russian-built helicopter MROs outside the country,” concludes Anatolij Legenzov, the CEO of Helisota.