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HAL's Dhruv helicopters ready for Ecuador
Ajai Shukla in Bengaluru | February 09, 2009 09:27 IST
Visitors to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited's high-security helicopter hangars in Bengaluru [Images] nowadays confront a startling sight. Dominating the tarmac are five shiny new Dhruvs, the HAL-manufactured Advanced Light Helicopters, emblazoned with the insignia and the roundels of the Ecuadorian Air Force.
With Aero India 2009 around the corner -- India's biggest-ever air expo, scheduled from February 11 to 15 -- HAL is readying to hand over, ahead of schedule, its first-ever export order won in a competitive contract, run last year by Ecuador for seven helicopters.
HAL is out to make a splash. The Ecuador Air Force chief will receive five Dhruvs at a high-profile media event at Aero India 2009. The remaining two will be handed over within six months. And instead of the conventional (and cheap) way of transporting helicopters across continents -- by painstakingly dismantling them and sending them by ship -- HAL has decided to fly the Dhruvs to Ecuador in a giant Antonov-124 transport aircraft.
"Transportation in an AN-124 will merely involve removing the rotor blades and quickly reassembling them after they land in Ecuador," explains N Seshadri, executive director of HAL's Rotary Wing R&D Centre.
HAL will have to pay about Rs 3.5 crores for ferrying the Dhruvs by AN-124, but the company believes that the goodwill generated will be worth the expense. Several South American countries besides Ecuador -- Columbia and Chile among them -- are evaluating the Dhruv. HAL knows they are carefully watching the Ecuador contract.
HAL, therefore, has pulled out the stops to ensure that Ecuador has no problems with maintaining its Dhruv fleet. A specially selected team of ten HAL engineers is being posted in Ecuador for the two-year period when the Dhruvs will be under warranty.
Serviceability was a problem that drew HAL flak when the first Dhruvs were supplied to the Indian military. At that time, HAL was focussing so strongly on producing more Dhruvs that the army and the air force had to complain that HAL was not providing adequate maintenance back-up.
"We are now very comfortable with supporting the Dhruv, wherever it is flying," asserts Ashok Nayak, managing director of HAL's Bangalore Complex and the man who has been selected to head HAL when the current chief, Ashok Baweja, retires on March 31.
The Dhruv assembly line in HAL Bangalore is already busy, fulfilling the Indian military's order for 159 helicopters. That notwithstanding, the Ecuador contract is seen as a major milestone, validating the Dhruv as an internationally competitive machine.
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