By Ajali Ojha
PARIS: At the 52nd Paris Air Show, India’s presence was marked with only a chalet of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited where the Indian flag bravely competed for attention with those of 2,300 exhibitors from 47 countries spread over giant exhibition halls.
Right at the entrance to the Le Bourget airport, where the Air Show was being held, signs of welcome written in many languages include a prominent one in Hindi.
However, inside the venue spread over 324,000 square meters, HAL was the only significant participant from India, even though there were three other registered Indian stalls not directly related to aviation. On the contrary, China had around 15 companies present at the Air Show, and had its latest fighters and drones on display.
HAL, the state-owned aerospace and defence company, in its chalet proudly displayed a model of Light Combat Helicopter, with a poster in the background showcasing its Light Utility Helicopter, Advance Light Helicopter, and other choppers.
Also present in the chalet were posters of Light Combat Aircraft Tejas, the indigenous fighter which has been India’s pride and hogged attention at the Bahrain Air Show, after which HAL said it received several inquiries about the fighter.
However, at Paris, Tejas was represented only through posters, and unlike the LCH, not even a model of the indigenous jet was showcased. HAL also did not have any stalls in the exhibition area, and the posters and models remained largely out of public view.
Ironically, right outside the HAL chalet, on display was a full-scale mock-up of China’s armed drone Wing Loong II, with all its missiles.
Making its first appearance at a Western air show in full-scale mock up form, the 4,200 kg Catic Wing Loong II is a copy of the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper that can be equipped with a wide range of Chinese-produced sensors and weaponry, with a maximum payload of around 450 kg.
While China also did not have any real fighter aircraft on display at the show, it showcased a model of its FC-31 fighter at a stall of Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).
China launched the global marketing of its FC-31 stealth fighter jet at Paris that costs around $70 million, about half the price of the Lockheed Martin F-35. A real-life F-35 also made a public debut at the same airshow, displaying its flying prowess.
Officials from AVIC said at the Air Show that the jet had received a “lot of attention from potential foreign buyers.” A model of this jet was earlier displayed at the 14th Dubai Air Show in November 2015.
Also at show at the AVIC stall were models of JF-17, lightweight, single-engine, multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) of China.
The JF-17 is said to become the backbone of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), complementing the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon whose performance it roughly matches, at half the cost.
The other models at display included Chinese supersonic training and light attack aircraft L-15 Falcon, Z-19 E chopper, Shaanxi Y-9 medium transport aircraft, and other aircraft.
Back at the HAL chalet officials held back-to-back meetings with different corporations and officials from foreign countries. Not much details about the meetings were shared, but an official indicated there was no major outcome.
“Largely contracts for buying or selling are finalised by government to government negotiations, so we don’t expect to walk out of an exhibition with orders,” an official who did not want to be named told IANS.
India has been looking for prospective buyers for the indigenous Light Combat Helicopter.
As for the indigenous fighter Tejas, $203 million has been approved for establishing a second production line for the Tejas. Together, the two Tejas production lines will annually roll out 16 aircraft in a year, while at present only eight are being made in a year.
The Indian government has ordered 83 HAL Tejas in November 2016. From the lacklusture participation at an international show, HAL may appear to be satisfied with such patronage.
(Anjali Ojha was at the Paris Air Show on an invitation from Air Asia. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)