'For Indian firms supplying global majors, coronavirus is both a threat and an opportunity.'
Ajay Shukla reports.
The Karnataka government has exempted local aerospace and defence (A&D) manufacturers from the nationwide anti-coronavirus lockdown, aimed to protect the state's companies.
'The state government hereby (exempts) industries supplying to defence & aerospace manufacturing from the purview of the lockdown and further to relax the restrictions imposed on the movement of workers and staff working in these industrial units,' stated a circular issued on Wednesday by Gaurav Gupta, the principal secretary in Karnataka's commerce and industries department.
This comes as a relief to the state's A&D firms, consisting mostly of medium, small and micro enterprises such as Dynamatic Technologies, Rossell India and Sasmos who are, for certain components and systems, the sole suppliers to Boeing production lines in the US and the Airbus assembly line in Toulouse, France.
Dynamatic builds 'flap track beam assemblies' for all 58 single-aisle airliners that Airbus assembles each month.
Without the on-time delivery of this crucial system, Airbus's assembly of A-318, A-319, A-320 and A-321 airliners in France (54 per month) and China (four per month) would grind to a halt.
Indian A&D firms believe that uninterrupted and timely supply remains critical for their credibility.
In the US and France, A&D production continues, even as other factories and shops have been shuttered to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The US federal government has ordered the A&D industry's 2.5 million employees to continue reporting for work after the defence industry lobbied the United States congress and the Pentagon for a special dispensation on the grounds of national security.
In France too, Airbus was closed for four days last fortnight, but then resumed production and assembly activities with the government's encouragement.
In these circumstances, Indian A&D firms are experiencing strong pressure to adhere to contracted supply schedules.
This was highlighted over the weekend when the highway police stopped a container truck transporting an Apache helicopter cabin, manufactured in Hyderabad by Tata Advanced Systems, to Mumbai for onward shipment to Boeing's Apache helicopter assembly facility in the US.
Eventually, the Union government was requested to intervene to allow the truck to proceed to Mumbai where the cabin was shipped to the US.
"For Indian firms supplying global majors, coronavirus is both a threat and an opportunity. We could shelter behind force majeure clauses in our contracts to justify failure in meeting supply obligations due to the pandemic," says Udayant Malhoutra, chief of Dynamatic Technologies.
"On the other hand, we could demonstrate that, despite serious difficulties, Indian firms will deliver on time," he adds.
With this motivation, Malhoutra petitioned the Karnataka government to allow A&D production as a special exemption from the lockdown.
"Karnataka's reaction was swift and decisive. The state government took just five days to issue the exemption order. Now, it is up to us to resume production quickly," he says.
A&D firms such as Dynamatic have already implemented enhanced separation norms between workers and sophisticated coronavirus awareness and prevention programmes. However, they will have to recall workers, many of who have left for their villages, and obtain curfew passes from the police for employees to travel to work.
It is unclear whether the Karnataka government's action will be emulated by the governments of Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and other states where A&D firms have a significant presence.
Indian A&D firms are carving out a steadily growing space as suppliers to global original equipment manufacturers like Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, Bell Helicopters and others.
Last year, Boeing sourced over Rs 7,000 crore worth of components and services from over 200 Indian companies while Airbus sourced over Rs 4,500 crore worth of components and services from some 45 Indian companies.