Fewer flying displays, foreign visitors, as Covid curbs Aero India 2021 - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Stuff.

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Friday, 8 January 2021

Fewer flying displays, foreign visitors, as Covid curbs Aero India 2021

The Paris Air Show has been cancelled but the Aero India website paints a rosy picture of Covid-control

 

By Ajai Shukla

 

The defence ministry’s flagship air show, Aero India 2021, scheduled to be held in Bengaluru next month, has run into the headwinds of the Covid-19 pandemic, with major defence multinationals deciding not to participate. Companies that are attending are doing so on a low key and flying displays – the staple of air shows – will be sharply curtailed.

 

The show website indicates that only 75 foreign firms are participating this year, compared to 165 companies that attended the previous edition of the biennial air show in 2019.

 

Amongst the notable absentees is Swedish firm Saab, which is staying away even though its Gripen E fighter is a contender in an Indian Air Force (IAF) tender for 114 medium fighters and possibly a Navy tender for 57 carrier-deck aircraft.

 

A company spokesperson told Business Standard that the decision was taken on health grounds, even though Aero India is one of the most important events on its calendar. “Due to the current situation and the travel advisories in different countries for the Covid pandemic, Saab will not be participating in the Aero India 2021 exhibition,” he said.

 

Other firms with equally high stakes in India, such as US giant Boeing, are scaling back their presence. There is uncertainty about whether Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which is competing in both the IAF and navy tenders, will participate in the flying displays.

 

Meanwhile, Boeing has decided against bringing to India a flight simulator of its F-15EX Strike Eagle fighter, which it is likely to field in the IAF tender for 114 fighters.

 

A company spokesperson stated: “Boeing will be at Aero India 2021, and we look forward to engaging with customers and the industry safely in this current environment, as we showcase a broad range of aerospace and defence capabilities.”

 

Aerospace company executives, speaking off-the-record, point to the lack of clarity on what regulations will govern issues such as quarantining. Since they have little appetite for Covid testing and no time for voluntary quarantining, multinational firms are considering sending their India office executives to show presence at Aero India 2021.

 

This was inevitable, says a senior executive of an international aerospace firm. The Paris Air Show, one of the world’s most prestigious, has been cancelled on health grounds, seven months before its scheduled date.

 

A statement on its website reads: “In light of the uncertainty linked to the Covid-19 health crisis, the Paris Air Show must sadly announce the cancellation of its 2021 edition, due to be held on 21-27 June.”

 

The Aero India 2021 website acknowledges that “the Covid-19 pandemic has put an impasse on business in its erstwhile format and few aerospace and defence (A&D) exhibitions have been witnessed in the year 2020.” Then it bravely continues: “Aero India 2021 heralds the new year and adapts itself to the new normal and aims to provide the much needed platform for decision makers and A&D businesses from around the world to forge new partnerships.”

 

The website encourages anti-Covid-19 norms such as social distancing and spacing between exhibits. “A conscientious approach has already been put in place whilst drawing up the floor plans for the event and two halls have been omitted and open area display has been de-cluttered to provide adequate free-flow for participants”, says the website.

 

For the defence ministry, Aero India 2021 is an opportunity to show its commitment to the prime minister’s “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) initiative. The “record-breaking” participation of 457 Indian firms has been achieved through multiple participation by government and public sector entities, each subsidiary or division entering separately. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd has entered as 24 separate entities, the Directorate General of Quality Assurance as 61 entities and Bharat Electronics as 21 entities. Tens of Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) laboratories have all entered separately.


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