The Tata group is keen to make planes in India, venturing into an area where Indian companies have traditionally not done well. “Tata Advanced Systems now has the capability to build an entire aircraft structure,” said Sukaran Singh, chief executive officer and managing director of Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL). “In Hyderabad, we have now built capability and can build a full aircraft.” Singh said TASL is making parts of aircraft and wishes to send an aircraft out of India in a so-called fly-away condition over the next few years. India imports most of its civil and defence aircraft. The only aircraft manufacturer of note is the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.
Over the past decade, the Tata group and the Mahindra group have gradually built a presence in the aerospace sector and have insinuated themselves into the global supply chain. The Tata group has four joint ventures— with American Lockheed Martin Corp., RUAG Aviation, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. and Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. With a base in Hyderabad, Tata is making Pilatus PC-12, Dornier 228, the main tail and fuselage parts of the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules turboprop military transport aircraft, and Sirkosky helicopter cabins. Singh said production is also being stepped up. Tata makes two empennages (tail assembly) for the Lockheed Martin C-130 a month right now and plans to take this up to four a month when sought by the manufacturer.
By the end of 2015, Tata will become the sole supplier to Lockheed Martin for this empennage. Matching global quality standards is key, “otherwise global manufacturers won’t buy from us”, Singh said. More parts for Lockheed Martin could be manufactured at this facility soon, said a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified. Singh said Tata will also bid to manufacture planes—including with Airbus Group NV—in the contracts being opened by the government. “(The ambition is) to actually build a full platform. We are actually bidding for large aircraft we will bid..., as and when the government allows the private sector for full helicopter platforms.
We have partnered with Airbus for the Avro replacement project. That is part of the process that ministry of defence is currently processing. Should that process move forward, and should we win..., part of that (aim) is to build full aircraft out of India—the final assembly line,” Singh said. On 11 February, the Tata group said it expects revenue of Rs.2,500 crore, or more than $400 million, from its defence and aerospace business in the year ending March 2015. An analyst said the group has taken one step at a time—from building parts to planes; and if cleared to make cargo planes, its next step could be passenger jets. “In the private sector, Tata is ahead of others; the group is doing little more value added and complex work.
But having said that, right now no company in the private sector is ready to make a full plane. The Tata group can always have a tie-up for avionics and engine..., even big aircraft makers do the same. This is the way to go,” said Laxman Kumar Behera, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, who has published research papers on aerospace. Behera said India is a decade away from making a passenger plane. Even China took 15-20 years to make such a plane. But the process requires government support, he said. “The aircraft industry is always supported by the government; in India there is no vision on how to develop (the industry). One the one hand we want HAL to develop civilian aircraft and (on the other), the Tata group is seeking to replace the Avro. You can’t have large number of people in this business, it has to be a consolidated country effort and driven by the government.”