‘Airbus Has Made ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ the Centrepiece of its Strategy in India’

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Airbus Group has been actively supporting India’s military modernisation as well as furthering India’s efforts to build a robust indigenous military-industrial complex through the transfer of technology and joint development and production with local partners.

Rémi Maillard, President & Managing Director, Airbus India & South Asia spoke at length to Editor, Raksha Anirveda about Airbus Group’s wide ranging engagements in India and its future plan, support to Startup India, Make in India initiatives and the company’s deep involvement in promoting indigenous technological prowess to realise Atmanirbhar Bharat. Edited Excerpts:

Airbus with its pioneering spirit and innovative new technologies has redefined the aerospace industry. It has been working towards achieving the sustainable aerospace goal. Tell us more about the various initiatives / programmes being undertaken by your company and the achievements so far.

At Airbus, we believe in doing responsible business and creating a positive impact on the world and its citizens. That is why we are taking a robust approach towards environmental and sustainability, which is at the heart of our purpose – to pioneer sustainable aerospace for a safe and united world.

The aviation industry as a whole is committed to net zero ambition by 2050 and Airbus is leading the journey towards clean aerospace. We are playing an active role in implementing this roadmap and supporting the ambition of 55 per cent reduction in CO2 by 2030.

Working towards this ambition, our teams are developing alternative-propulsion systems powered by electric, hydrogen and/or solar technology – to enable the aviation industry to disruptively reduce the CO2 emissions of commercial aircraft, helicopters, satellites and future urban air mobility vehicles.

In fact, our existing commercial aircraft portfolio already includes the most efficient aircraft product line. The A350, A330neo, A220 and the A320neo family, all offer 20-25% reduction in fuel burn and significantly reduced noise footprints versus the previous generation of aircraft.

A330 MRTT demonstrating its versatility and capability in air-to-air refuelling

We also believe that Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) will also be an important driver of CO2 reduction in the aviation sector. Today, all Airbus commercial aircraft are certified to fly with up to 50% of SAF and this will reach 100% within the decade. IndiGo earlier this year took delivery of its first Airbus aircraft operated on SAF blend. We are also conducting a joint study with Airport operators Groupe ADP and GMR Airports along with Axens and Safran on SAF and its potential in India.

In your opinion, what more support should the government provide to the aerospace and aviation industry to create a robust, vibrant ecosystem aligned with the global supply chain ecosystem and emerge as a global manufacturing hub?

Airbus has made ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ the centrepiece of its strategy in India and is seeking to further extend its commitment to making in India to meet the needs of its civil and military customers. For instance, take the C295 programme, which marks a new dawn in India’s defence industry. The programme is a unique platform that harmonises and harnesses the tremendous competencies of the private sector, the DPSUs and the MSMEs – the three forces for good for an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.

We believe that the helicopter policy that was announced by the Minister of Civil Aviation and development of heli hubs will give the much needed impetus to this underutilised civilian helicopter sector in the country

In certain areas, it would help if the government provides the initial impetus for the sector to take off. For example – the new space policy is an enabler for the private sector but the government has to become a catalyst that triggers industrial capabilities of large and small companies in the space domain. A case in point is the telecom and downstream services market that is waiting to be tapped, and the Government of India can help realise its true potential by becoming the launch customer for LEO and GEO satellite constellations. Private companies are most confident and forthcoming in investing when there is certainty of business and order flow.

Airbus has been fostering and supporting the development of the Indian aerospace and aviation industry for decades. It has been further exploring potential synergies in several strategic areas of aviation services, including maintenance, components, training, digital and airport services. Kindly provide your insights into your future strategy and expansion plans in the Indian market.

Providing fast and seamless service to our customers in the region and helping them to adapt and thrive in a dynamic business environment is our priority. Airbus can rely on its Customer Services hub in Delhi dedicated to India and South Asia. Our approach is to ‘think global, act local’ which ensures that our customers get the maximum benefits when it comes to services support.

C295 MPA

We have taken a proactive approach when it comes to meet the growing demand for maintenance engineers and pilots in the region. Today, our training centres in Bengaluru and Delhi (NCR) are providing maintenance and pilot training and have the capacity to skill more than 8000 pilots and 2000 engineers over the next ten years with plans for further expansion. Earlier this year, we signed a contract with GMR group to provide aircraft maintenance training to young aviation engineers making a trending career choice. We are also innovating and diversifying our services to cater to the growing and dynamic Indian civil aviation market and have signed an MoU with Flytech Aviation to explore collaboration opportunities to provide Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) training.

We also offer comprehensive maintenance solutions, such as Tailored Support Programme (TSP) and Flight Hour Services (FHS) to our airline customers that provides them with full component support, as well as fleet technical management services that helps them improve their daily utilisation and streamline their costs of operations.

In fact, we are already setting up a FAL for the C295. This programme will put India on the global map of prominent aircraft manufacturing countries, serving not only the Indian Air Force well but also the Government of India’s vision of an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India)

Many of our customers also use our aviation data platform – Skywise – that offers insightful, AI-driven analytics that helps them improve their operational performance by preventing delays and reducing risks of aircraft on ground. Moreover, as an aircraft OEM, what we want most of all is that our airline customers have access to the best cost and time efficient MROs to minimise their operational costs and maximise their aircraft availability hours. Today, we support all the MROs by providing the knowledge base, parts, tools, expertise, digital services and innovative solutions such as drone inspections, all which an MRO can use to be a world class facility.

Airbus through its collaborative approach, technology and know-how sharing has played a pivotal role in Make in India and has placed it at the heart of its business strategy in India. What are the issues that have been affecting the initiative’s performance matrix despite Indian government’s intent, focus and continuous efforts towards making Make in India a success story? Your views / suggestions.

The Indian government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative is a great opportunity for us to bring in our expertise of industrial collaborations worldwide and help develop a robust industry. Developing a self-reliant India is at the core of our local business strategy, and we are proud to say that every Airbus commercial aircraft manufactured today is partly made in India.

Airbus is uniquely positioned for ‘Make in India’ in defence. The C295 programme is a testament to this as it has opened the doors to the first ‘Make in India’ aerospace programme for the private sector. This programme will put India on the global map of prominent aircraft manufacturing countries, serving not only the Indian Air Force well but also the Government of India’s vision of an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.

Space has emerged as a new frontier – both commercially and militarily. As a leading space company, Airbus has worked extensively with ISRO, its commercial arm Antrix and contributed to various Indian Space missions. Kindly provide a detailed account of your experience with Indian Space missions along with insights into your current and future engagements with Indian Space industry.

Airbus has extensive experience working with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) as well as its commercial arm Antrix/NSIL. Both entities have been collaborating on the design and manufacture of telecom satellites and have also designed and built two communication satellites – Eutelsat W2M in 2008 and HYLAS-1 in 2010 – for European customers. In addition, ISRO has successfully launched Airbus’ earth observation satellites – SPOT-6, SPOT-7, along with three DMC satellites by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), an Airbus subsidiary, on-board its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). Airbus’ products have been present on many important Communication, Inter-planetary exploration and Navigation, and Earth Observation missions.

Continuing and strengthening our engagement with ISRO, Airbus has been selected to build the world’s largest compact antenna test range facility for ISRO at their Bengaluru site. Airbus’ Connected Intelligence (CI) products and services such as high resolution imageries data are being used by Indian governmental establishments. In April 2020, the French Government’s space agency – Centre national d’études spatiales (CNES) – signed a contract with Airbus Defence and Space for the development and manufacture of the thermal infrared instrument for the TRISHNA satellite. TRISHNA (Thermal infrared Imaging Satellite for High resolution Natural resource Assessment) will be the latest satellite in the joint Franco-Indian satellite fleet dedicated to climate monitoring and operational applications.

Furthermore, the Tactilon Agnet 500 communication and collaboration platform by Airbus has been selected by Indian telecom operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) for use on mobile broadband networks. Airbus’ Tactilon Agnet 500 is a flexible and scalable group collaboration solution which allows efficient team communication through push-to-talk, video calls, information sharing in groups, real-time location tracking, end-to-end encryption, and emergency alerts.

Airbus continues to deliver products and services for Indian Space Programmes and is always looking for the right opportunities to deepen the collaborative relationship with the Department of Space as well as Indian industry.

Airbus Helicopters has been working towards developing new market segments such as, Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS), security, aerial work, power line missions and more in India. How has been the progress and will these new market segments see viable expansion in next 2-3 years?

The beauty of the helicopter is that it saves travel time and can also save lives. In India, we see the current overall demand for helicopters being primarily driven by heli-tourism, oil and gas exploration and VIP transportation. The country’s helicopter potential in other areas such as mining, corporate travel, law enforcement remains severely underused.

We believe that helicopters can be used as a nation building tool when it comes to emergency rescue, aerial work, disaster response, and airborne law enforcement. Speaking of Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS), it is still in a very nascent stage in India and holds a lot of potential. A helicopter configured with air-medical equipment and a trained crew can be a saviour for a critical patient and help them transfer to a hospital within minutes. The Covid-19 pandemic has further put a spotlight on the importance of adding HEMS to the healthcare infrastructure. The first and second wave of the virus amplified the need for emergency medical services and airlifting critical patients as access to timely healthcare became difficult. We feel this is the right time for HEMS to penetrate into the Indian market.

Airbus will display its comprehensive range of defence and space capabilities at DefExpo 2022. Scale models of the versatile A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft as well as the multi-role AS565 MBe (Panther) and H225M helicopters will find a pride of place among other products and services

We believe that the helicopter policy that was announced by the Minister of Civil Aviation and development of heli hubs will give the much needed impetus to this underutilised civilian helicopter sector in the country. We understand that the demand for helicopters is emerging in the country but it is marred by various factors such as high operating cost, cost of ATF and high import duty. We believe that along with the aforementioned concerns, the new policy will also address factors like application of air traffic rules, infrastructure development and their maintenance to drive the growth of the helicopter sector in the country.

At Airbus, we offer a range of helicopters that are recognised for speed and reliability, modular cabins, low vibration levels and excellent manoeuvrability, that have the ability to land anywhere, and have low operating costs. Our product line offers the full spectrum of rotary-wing aircraft solutions for civil, government, military, law enforcement and parapublic use that also offer a range of support and services including maintenance repair and overhaul, along with training for pilots and technicians. We are here to help fulfil the country’s requirement for these services.

Airbus enjoys a leadership position in the Indian aviation sector. It has shown immense faith in the Indian market with investments and ever-developing partnership that has resulted in India becoming a base, strategic resource hub to fuel its global growth. What are key factors that have made Airbus believe in India’s potential? Kindly elaborate in detail.

India’s aerospace industry has seen significant growth given the rising demand from both the defence and civil aviation sectors. The growth in the civil aviation sector is mainly driven by a large and growing middle class and major investments in aviation infrastructure. This growth has the potential to enhance connectivity, improve employment, encourage tourism, and to turn India into an aviation hub. Today, all eyes are on India and the potential it has to become an aviation and defence hub owing to its strong fundamentals. India has a strong information technology and engineering capabilities and manufacturing expertise. Recent reforms in the policy framework and initiatives like ‘Make in India’ and ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ are further boosting aerospace manufacturing as well.

In commercial aviation, India is now the fastest growing market in the world and is predicted to become the world’s third-largest civil aviation market by 2030. India’s massive, young population, strong economic fundamentals as well as significant diaspora and business links make the potential for growth just staggering. Simply look at the international traffic serving India – traffic that Indian carriers could be competing for – with the right aircraft. Over the past decade or so, Indian airline companies have revolutionised domestic travel, and we believe that we are now on the cusp of a renaissance in international travel, and Airbus is ready to support that growth with its unbeatable range of long-haul products.

We also believe that India’s strength lies not only in its market but also in its talent base of engineers and IT professionals who are already working on some of the most advanced aerospace systems, including in our Airbus India Engineering and IM centres in Bengaluru.

Do you think the Indian aerospace industry is ready now to produce commercial aircraft? Is Airbus planning to make the first move in the near future?

In fact, we are already setting up a FAL for the C295. This programme will put India on the global map of prominent aircraft manufacturing countries, serving not only the Indian Air Force well but also the Government of India’s vision of an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India). It is a game-changer that brings together the best of the private sector, the best of the DPSUs and the SMEs to unlock the potential for cutting-edge design, component manufacturing, aircraft assembly and services capabilities across the value chain in India. In addition, given its large engineering and IT talent pool, India will take an active part in the development of the next generation zero-emission aircraft that will rely on disruptive, decarbonised technologies and advanced digitalisation. So, we are proud to say we are contributing towards enhancing aircraft manufacturing capabilities of the Indian industry.

What are your showcase plans for DefExpo 2022 and expectations from the event?

Airbus will display its comprehensive range of defence and space capabilities at DefExpo 2022. Scale models of the versatile A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft as well as the multi-role AS565 MBe (Panther) and H225M helicopters will find a pride of place among other products and services at the Airbus booth in Hall 9, Stand R27 & R28. The company, with a strong legacy of working with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and its commercial arm NewSpace India Ltd., will also display its extensive space systems portfolio, including its range of EO satellite models such as Eurostar 3000 satellite and an interactive digital presentation of the S250 and S850 radar.