November 25, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/ HAL Chairman Dr C G Krishnadas Nair

The Rediff Interview/</EM> HAL Chairman Dr C G Krishnadas Nair
Asia's biggest aircraft manufacturer, the Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited was started in December 1940 mainly to repair and overhaul military aircraft and engines to support war efforts during the Second World War. After Independence, the company spread its wings to cover various aerospace activities such as design, development, manufacture and maintenance of aircraft.

In the last six decades, HAL has indigenously manufactured, designed and developed trainers, fighters, helicopters, avionics and mechanical systems, sophisticated airborne and ground equipment. It has also been regularly upgrading Indian Air Force fighter aircraft such as MiGs, Jaguar and Mirage 2000.

But critics say the IAF, the company's largest customer, has been forced to shop for jets and trainers overseas because HAL failed to meet the requirements of the IAF in time. For instance, the Light Combat Aircraft, the most ambitious multi-role fighter meant to replace the MiG-21, still languishes in the laboratories of HAL and the Defence Research and Development Organisation.

But HAL Chairman Dr C G Krishnadas Nair is undaunted by the critics. He says the company has always lived up to its mission: "To become a globally competitive aerospace industry while working as an instrument for achieving self-reliance in design, manufacture and maintenance of aerospace defence equipment."

In an exclusive interview to George Iype, he outlines the several high-tech projects and joint ventures that will make the company fly higher in the 21st century. Dr Nair also throws in rare insights as to why frequent accidents involving MiGs take place in the Indian skies.

HAL has emerged as Asia's biggest aircraft maker over the years. How do you assess the company's growth?

Over the years, HAL has been continuously stepping up its research and development efforts for indigenisation of aeronautical materials, manufacturing technologies, design and development of systems and equipment. This has paved the way for greater self-reliance in aircraft manufacture and aerospace products in India. Today, HAL stands at the 48th position in the top 100 aerospace industries in the world. Mind you, our position in 1998 was at 63. So we are flying higher and higher.

HAL is continuously striving for the fulfillment of its mission. Our annual turnover has more than doubled in the last six years, that is from Rs 1,102 crores in 1993-94 to Rs 2,400 crores in 1999-2000. It is expected to reach a figure of Rs 10,000 crores in 2007.

What are the new research and development initiatives at HAL?

The new R&D initiatives are on the Advanced Light Helicopter, Light Combat Aircraft, Intermediate Jet Trainer, a trainer for the 21st century and Lancer, a light attack helicopter. We are regularly updating the MiG and Jaguar aircraft.

HAL has also embarked on a programme for the co-production of 50 to 70 seater aircraft with a partner. We are in a dialogue with prospective manufacturers for co-development and manufacture of 100 seater Tactical Transport Aircraft. We have also diversified into related areas by establishing the industrial marine gas turbine division and airport service centre in Bangalore.

In exports, HAL achieved a figure of Rs 47 crores during 1999-2000 and plans to increase it by ten times during the next seven years.

Do you think indigenous designing and production of aircraft has been successful in India? Have you met your targets in the last ten years?

Yes, certainly. I think indigenous design and production of aircraft has been very successful in India. HAL has to its credit 12 types of aircraft from in-house research and development and over 1,100 aircraft have been produced out of these alone with a large number of indigenously developed avionics and mechanical system equipment.

The IAF, your largest customer, is shopping for combat jets and trainers overseas. Is it because HAL has failed to meet the requirements of the IAF as per schedule?

HAL has been meeting the customers' requirements as per schedule. We have earned appreciation not only from the IAF but many other customers from India and overseas, including Airbus Industrie and Boeing.

Whether a particular type of aircraft required by IAF is to be designed and developed by HAL or directly imported or produced under licence in HAL is decided on exigencies, strategic considerations and economic viability.

We often read about accidents involving MiGs in the Indian skies. HAL has upgraded several batches of MiGs. Do you think upgradation of these aircraft have indeed resulted in more flying years? Or do you think it is a waste of time and money?

Sometimes the media reports on accidents are not correct probably as they are not fully aware of all the facts and efforts being put in by HAL towards accident prevention. A number of statements have been made in the recent past by not less than the chief of the air staff on the safety and airworthiness of the MiG-21 aircraft. As a matter of fact the chief of air staff himself flew this fighter in the presence of media persons on October 23 this year.

The upgrade of any aircraft effectively improves its performance and results in better utilisation, which is both, cost effective and economical. Presently, MiG series aircraft are in the process of being upgraded to provide modern avionics and navigational attack system to improve their operational performance and effectiveness.

Have you identified other customers -- especially overseas -- other than the IAF?

The HAL has established a foot-hold in exports by competitive bidding in several areas such as aero structures to Boeing and Airbus Industrie and supply of spares and services to a variety of military and civil aircraft, engines and equipment operated by air forces and civilian operators.

The Light Combat Aircraft has been the most ambitious of all HAL projects. But the test flight schedules of the LCA have been postponed a number of times. When will the LCA fly now?

High speed taxi trials of the LCA on the first Technology Demonstrator (TD-1) aircraft have been successfully completed. Final system integration tests leading to first flight are in progress and are likely to be completed shortly.

The Comptroller and Auditor General in its report last year said that the airframe for LCA is 'deficient in vital parameters of aerodynamic configuration, volume and most importantly, the weight.' Is this observation about the LCA true? Has the LCA production been delayed because of any technological defects?

Dr C G Krishnadas Nair Judgement on the performance of an aircraft including its weight and other parameters, which is under development should wait until the development is completed. During the development phase there are a number of technological requirements and challenges, which are to be analysed and solved. The LCA project is not delayed because of defects in design, but the time taken to overcome the technological and also the political challenges and finding solutions by developing appropriate indigenous technologies and equipment.

The LCA programme is being managed and monitored by the Aeronautical Development Agency which is a part of the Defence Research and Development Organisation. HAL as a major partner to this project is working closely with ADA to complete the development of LCA.

It is alleged that the IAF has been compelled to upgrade its MiGs because of the delay on the LCA production. Your comments.

'Aircraft upgrade' is being undertaken worldwide as a cost-effective measure to improve performance and utilisation of existing fleet of aircraft. MiGs are also being upgraded to provide advanced avionics and navigation attack systems to improve their operational capability. This programme has nothing to do with the LCA.

Will you be using the Kaveri engine or the frontline 404 engines from General Electric for the LCA?

The Kaveri engine is being developed for the LCA programme.

Now that India has signed an agreement with Russia for the purchase of Sukhoi aircraft, when do you hope to start the licence production of the Sukhoi aircraft? When will you roll out the first batch of Sukhois?

Inter governmental agreement for the licence manufacture of SU-30 Mk-I aircraft has been signed. The general contract for commencement of licence manufacture is under finalisation. It will take four to five years from the go-ahead to roll out the first batch of indigenously produced Sukhoi aircraft.

HAL has been planning to produce a 100-seater civil aircraft. When do you expect the project to be completed?

HAL has reached an understanding with various partners to undertake joint development and co-production of 100 seater tactical transport aircraft on risk sharing basis with financial investment from the partners. Detailed discussions are in progress to prepare a project report. The programme envisages joint design, development, testing and certification followed by productionising the aircraft within a time frame of six years.

You also have plans to produce Saras, a 14-seater aircraft. Can you tell us more about the project?

Saras is a 14 seater multi-role light transport aircraft designed and developed by the National Aerospace Lab jointly with HAL. It is a multi-role aircraft with a range of 1,200 kilometres, speed of 550 kilometres, per hour payload of 1,230 kilograms and endurance of six-hours extendable to eight-hours for the coast guard. The aircraft is fully pressurised and provides maximum passenger comfort. The unique oft-mounted pusher configuration of power plant offers advantages of reduced noise and vibration.

The prototype aircraft is under structural assembly stage. It will be followed by final assembly, equipping and necessary system checks. These activities are likely to take about a year and thus the aircraft is expected to fly in 2002.

HAL has announced that it will deliver 12 attack helicopters -- Lancer -- to the Indian Army soon. Can you elaborate on that?

The Lancer is being developed for counter-insurgency role, para military surveillance duties, police patrolling, intimidation and harassment of enemy troops. It will have a lightweight composite armour protection for pilot seats, control linkages below the cabin floor and bottom surface of the fuel tank. The canopy is shaped to reduce the possibility of small arms fire hitting at ninety degrees. This helicopter has two weapon stations, one on either side which is a combination of a gun (12.7 mm) cum rocket pods (70 mm). These helicopters will be delivered to the Indian Army progressively during this year and next year.

Has HAL ever been hit by any funds crunch? Or has scarcity of funds considerably delayed design and production schedules?

HAL by virtue of having sound financial health is able to generate adequate internal resources for meeting the investment in capital infrastructure as well as the research and development projects. There is no problem with funds. HAL was awarded the highest credit rating viz A1+and LAAA by ICRA for short and long term borrowings. Recently CRISIL has also assigned the highest credit rating of "AAA" for long term debt programme.

What are HAL's future plans? Do you plan to have tie-ups with companies like Boeing or Airbus Industrie for any futuristic design and production of aircraft?

HAL has plans to become a risk and work sharing partner of major aerospace companies for joint design and development and co-production of aircraft and its equipment. Efforts are on in this direction. Currently Airbus and Boeing work-packages are being executed under export programme.

What kind of export potential do you envision for HAL? Is HAL negotiating with other countries for export of products and services?

HAL plans to achieve an export of the order of Rs 450 crores by 2006-07. We have identified certain key areas to capitalise the exports potential. They include the Advanced Light Helicopter (military and civil), 50 and 100 seater aircraft (civil and military transport), overhaul services for military and civil aircraft, engines and equipment, supply of aero structures and engine components, co-production and joint ventures with overseas organisation and off-set policy for procurement of aircraft.

How do you plan to enter into the global market? Is it by diversifying from military-related products to civilian aircraft?

HAL plans to improve its presence in the global market by enhanced collaboration with overseas aerospace organisations through joint ventures, co-production and joint design development partnerships with risk sharing. Diversification to civil aircraft and related engineering industries such as precision components, software, industrial and marine gas turbines is also a definite strategy. HAL will continue to project its capabilities through participation in leading air shows in Europe, Asia and in the international biennial air show in India.

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