India, Jordan ink 12 pacts to boost defence ties

India and Jordan signed a framework defence agreement which envisages a whole range of possibilities from defence acquisitions by Jordan to defence exercises and closer security cooperation. India and Jordan signed 12 agreements after the high level talks, covering areas as diverse as mass media, health, culture and tourism. But the area of interest for both countries is clearly defence and security. King Mr Abdullah, who is himself a trained para-trooper and a Sandhurst alumni, inspected the Indian-made Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) at Palam, and reviewed an anti-terrorism demonstration by NSG at Manesar. During the discussions, both countries reiterated their support for the Palestine cause, officials said. India and Jordan started a cyber security dialogue in July 2017, and want to take it further. Briefing journalists, secretary (ER) TS Mr. Tirumurti said, “This is a framework defence agreement, where several areas of cooperation are delineated. We are exploring different areas of cooperation. So while nothing specific was discussed, we are exploring possibilities.” He said while the King surveyed the ALH, there was no talk yet of any sale. King Mr Abdullah addressed the Indian industry and invited Indian companies to utilise Mr Jordan as a gateway to Europe and the US, taking advantage of its free trade agreements with these vast markets. Sources said a number of Bto-B agreements were signed. Mr Jordan has already asked for assistance for its massive refugee population which include 1.3 billion Syrians, as well as Iraqis and Palestinians. Last year, India gave a cash donation of $2 million, but this year, it will be giving $5 million in vaccines and medicines to Mr Jordan.


India’s first heli-taxi service takes flight in Bengaluru

“Exhilarating, epic, absolutely phenomenal,” gushed lifestyle blogger Deena Pinto, as India’s first heli-taxi service completed its maiden flight between Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) and Electronics City here in less than 15 minutes. Operated by the Kochi-based Thumby Aviation, the six-seater Bell 407 helicopter had just clocked a travel record, bypassing the city’s notoriously congested roads in a jiffy. Taking off at 10.30 am from a helipad on KIA’s land side, the heli-taxi landed at 10.45 am in Electronics City. For Pinto, the first helicopter ride of her life was an aerial experience like no other. “I am still on cloud nine from my trip. Although it was very brief, it was amazing to watch Namma Bengaluru from above. Sky taxis are here to say,” she told DH. A one-way flight is priced at Rs 4,130 per seat (Rs 3,500 plus GST). Digital marketer Mr Hrish Thota, who also flew the heli-taxi, found it cheaper than the Rs 4,500 charged for a luxury taxi ride on the same route. “The taxi takes 2.5 hours due to the heavy traffic. Heli-taxi makes perfect sense for the corporates, C-level employees and CEOs,” Mr Hrish analysed. The last-mile connectivity was another plus. Passengers landing at KIA are picked up right from the airport terminal and driven in an SUV to the helipad. “At Electronics City, too, the helipad in Phase I is within 1.5 km from all the major IT firms. It is very convenient,” he explained. Also, a Metro station is coming up in the vicinity. Lined up for the second phase are services between KIA, HAL Airport and the ITC Gardenia hotel near Richmond Circle. Bookings will soon be opened at HAL. Plans are afoot to activate more helipads in the city to make it an intra-city heli-taxi service, said a Thumby Aviation official. The helipad facility at Electronics City was formally inaugurated in the presence of the CEO and members of the Electronics City Industrial Township Authority (ELCITA). Once demand picks up, a 13-passenger Bell 412 helicopter will be added to the fleet. The airport shuttle is currently operational from 6.30 am to 9.45 am, and from 3.15 pm to 6 pm. For corporates, a special introductory price of Rs 2,500 plus taxes has been offered for 45 days. Services during the remaining daylight hours between 10 am and 3 pm will be open to bookings based on availability and dynamic pricing. This is currently priced at Rs. 35,400 (inclusive of taxes).


AirAsia India to begin overseas operations by Jan 2019: MD & CEO Amar Abrol

Budget carrier AirAsia India has charted out expansion plans to connect more tier-II and III cities and set a target to commence flights to overseas destinations by January 2019, a top official said.  The airliner last week inducted its 16th aircraft and announced the addition of Nagpur and Indore to its list of destinations.  According to AirAsia India, Managing Director and CEO, Mr Amar Abrol, the airliner has planned to commence overseas operation by January 2019 once it has 20 or more planes.  “Our strategy is that once we get to 20 planes (operating in domestic operations) we will start flying international. Mostly, it will be to South East Asian countries,” he told PTI here.  Stating that 27 per cent of the people who fly with AirAsia were flying for the first time ever, he said, “So, we are opening up Indian skies. And we are getting lot many more Indians to fly for the first time.”  The plan is to connect more and more tier II and III cities in India, wherever A320 can go and also start flying international after crossing 20 aircraft, he said.  Elaborating, he said, the company would serve those markets which were already connected by the airliner’s group entities — AirAsia Malaysia, AirAsia Indonesia, AirAsia Thailand.  “We will be flying mostly to Malaysia, Indonesia and neighbouring SAARC countries as well. Bangladesh, Nepal and so on and so forth,” he said.  Asked whether there would be any competition within the AirAsia Group itself, as AirAsia Malaysia and AirAsia Thailand operate, he replied in the affirmative saying, it will be healthy competition between the airlines.  “That is not a problem. I think there is enough demand for AirAsia Malaysia to grow and AirAsia India to grow.”  He said the customer would be deciding the flight to a destination, whether it may belong to AirAsia Malaysia or AirAsia India.  “For the customer there will not be any difference. Still, it will be an AirAsia plane, AirAsia service. There will not be any difference. Probably there may be (some difference) in the cabin crew,” he said  On pricing, he said, “AirAsia Malaysia is an independent entity, AirAsia India is an independent entity. We will price according to what we feel is right. But, ultimately it is the consumers who will decide which flight they want to take.”  Referring to the Centre’s ambitious UDAAN scheme which aims to connect under-served cities, Mr Abrol said, the airliner was not participating (in the scheme) because the flights owned by them were Airbus A320s.  The government’s ambitious UDAN (Ude Desh Ke Aam Naagrik) scheme, under which fares are capped at Rs 2,500 for a one-hour flight. It aims at boosting air connectivity to and from unserved and under-served airports and making flying more affordable.  “UDAAN scheme is typically meant for 10-seater or 15- seater ATRs. We have big planes. Hence we are not participating in Udan Scheme per se,” Mr Abrol said.  Stating that AirAsia was already connecting metros to non-metros other than Bengaluru-Chennai, Bengaluru-New Delhi, he said, the focus will be on tier II and III cities.  “Our focus has been on tier II and III cities. Because, we believe that is where quite a lot of demand is,” he said.  The company recently introduced flights in the Bhubaneswar-Chennai route.  “We are connecting Chennai to Bhubaneswar and we are not necessarily connecting Chennai to New Delhi, because that is a market which is already served very well”, he said.  AirAsia India currently flies to 17 destinations with its hubs in Bengaluru, New Delhi and Kolkata. AirAsia India is a joint venture between Tata Sons Limited and AirAsia, with AirAsia Investment Limited.  AirAsia India currently flies to 17 destinations with its hubs in Bengaluru, New Delhi and Kolkata. AirAsia India is a joint venture between Tata Sons Limited and AirAsia, with AirAsia Investment Limited.  AirAsia India commenced operations in June 2014 and currently flies to several cities in the domestic market.


IISc Open Day: Fire, chemicals, drones fascinate visitors

Giving malls and movies a skip, hundreds of students, parents, and children spent their day at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) to take part in the annual Open Day. Visitors saw fire, chemicals, electricity, drones, and more in action in the many departments of the prestigious institute.

At the airfield of the aerospace department, there was a buzz in the air. Not just of the excited crowd but of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones being displayed. Children watched with excitement as the drones zoomed back and forth in the air. The capabilities of the drones, developed in the UAV Lab, were shown through tasks such as rescuing victims from an obstacle-rich environment and even completing lemon-and-spoon races. Mr Krish Manoj, a Class 5 student, and Mr Samruddhi Pal, a Class 7 student, from Gurukul High, Attibele, were at the institute with their teachers. “We were very excited to see experiments. We loved the helium balloon which can go very high up into the sky. We also saw the drones at the aerospace department,” they said. The Centre for Product Design and Manufacturing (CPDM) had long queues for viewing the projects of students there. People watched with fascination as a student demonstrated a device he developed which could operate a computer by tracking eye movements and hand gestures.

Posters and kids zone

Myths about snake bites were being dispelled at the Centre for Ecological Sciences. “Relatives of killed snakes don’t come seeking vengeance, snakes can’t listen to the charmer’s tune and they don’t have gems in their hoods,” posters declared. For children, there was a special kids zone where they could watch live experiments on basic concepts in science. Lovekush, a first PU student, decided to skip classes for the day and spend time at the institute. “One of my teachers is from the IISc and he always talked about it. So I wanted to check it out. I attended a talk on optic fibres and it was good,” he said. He is interested in studying DNA and would consider joining the institute after Class 12.


Tata Boeing Aerospace facility to produce fuselages for Apache aircraft opened in Hyderabad

The Telangana government has sought the support of the NDA government at the Centre in setting up a defence electronics incubator proposed to be set up in Hyderabad. Telangana minister for IT and urban development Mr K T Rama Rao was speaking after the inauguration of Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited, a joint venture of Boeing and Tata Advanced Systems at Adibatla aerospace special economic zone on the outskirts of Hyderabad. The inaugural ceremony was attended by Union Defence Minister Mrs Nirmala Sitaraman, US Ambassador to India Mr Kenneth I Juster, Tata Emeritus Chairman Mr Ratan Tata, Boeing Executive Vice President Leanne Caret and officials of Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL) and Boeing. The 14,000 square meter facility will employ 350 skilled workers. It will be the sole global producer of fuselages for AH-64 Apache helicopter delivered by Boeing to its global customers including the US Army. The facility, set up in 13 acres at a reported cost of Rs 200 crore, will also make secondary aero-structures and vertical spar boxes of the combat helicopter.

Stating that Telangana is leveraging its strength in aerospace and defence, KTR said the state was looking forward to setting up an exclusive centre for innovation in this sector also. “Telangana is a hotbed for innovations, which include the largest defence manufacturing ecosystem and largest technology incubator T-Hub. We are currently focussing on setting up India’s largest prototyping facility called T-works,” he said. He expressed happiness over Boeing choosing Hyderabad as the preferred destination. He said while the facility would manufacture aero-structures for the Apache helicopters, it would take a step forward and manufacture a full-blown aircraft in the future.

Boeing and Tata signed the agreement to develop this facility in 2015, followed by ground breaking ceremony in June 2016.


IAF to embark on a long shopping sortie for a jet

It’s back to square one for the force as the government has scrapped the MMRCA tender; evaluation and other processes will take at least 2 years Almost two decades after it began a search for a fighter aircraft, the Indian Air Force is back to square one. The IAF will begin the search again to arrest its falling squadron strength, as the Union government had scrapped the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender after ordering 36 Rafale fighters from France in flyaway condition. “The Request for Information (RFI) for selecting a new fighter aircraft is expected to be issued before the DefExpo in April. It will be an open tender and not limited to single-engine aircraft,”. Earlier, the IAF was looking for a single-engine jet to replace the MiG-21s and MiG-27s. The new jets were to be manufactured in India by the private industry under the Strategic Partnership model. However, the contest is now being opened up. “The contest for single-engine jets has only two contenders and it would end up being a single-vendor situation on technical evaluation. So it has been decided to widen the contest to avoid issues later,” the official said. While the Lockheed Martin F-16 and SAAB Gripen are single-engine fighters, the contest will be now open to Boeing F-18, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Russian MiG-35, all of which were part of the earlier MMRCA contest. The open tender will essentially be MMRCA all over again. “The IAF has already evaluated all the aircraft in the MMRCA contest. So once the technical evaluation process starts, selection of one aircraft can be completed in two years. After that, it is the contract negotiations. Concluding the contract depends on how fast we can close it,” an IAF source said. In 2000, the government decided to procure 126 fighter jets, but it was only in 2007 that the RFI, the first step in the long procurement process, was issued for 126 aircraft under the MMRCA deal expected to cost around $12 billion. However, with contract negotiations reaching a deadlock, in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrapped the deal and announced an Inter-Governmental Agreement with France for 36 Rafales at a cost of €7.87 billion, including aircraft, spares, weapons and a maintenance and performance guarantee for five years.

Final choice

Under the new deal, the IAF is looking for over 100 aircraft, and the official said that whether single- or twin-engine, the aircraft were equally competent and the final choice would depend on the extent of technology transfer and price. Another reason for widening the tender is for the selection of a competent Indian partner. In anticipation of a single-engine tender, Lockheed and SAAB had tied up with prospective Indian partners. “The Indian SP partner has to be selected by the government through a competitive evaluation. So it is good to have a wider pool of both OEMs [original equipment manufacturer] and Indian partners to choose from,” the official said.

Additional Rafales

One defence official observed that procuring at least two more squadrons of Rafale jets would make economic, operational and logistical sense as India is spending €2 billion on IAF-specific customisations and 36 is too small a number. “It makes logical sense and would save us money as the additional aircraft would cost less. But in the current political climate, it is not possible,” he said. The IAF has a sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons but is currently down to 31 squadrons and with the planned induction of 36 Rafales between 2019 and 2022, remaining Sukhoi-30MKI and some LCA Tejas, the strength will hover at 30 till 2027 and in the subsequent five-year term, will fall to 27. If there are no newer inductions, it is expected to slide further to 19 squadrons by 2042.


ISRO confirms that India’s second mission to the Moon Chandrayaan – 2

The Indian Space Research Organisation said on 12 January that the Chandrayaan-2 missionis on schedule and flight models are going through various tests. is on schedule. In Chandrayan-2, the country’s second mission to the Moon, ISRO is planning to rover to explore the lunar surface “It is on schedule. We have to find out whether it is in March or not,” ISRO Chairman A S Kiran Kumar told in a response to a question. Speaking after the successful orbiting of 31 satellites, including weather observation Cartosat-2 Series craft, by the PSLV-C40, he said the Chandrayan-II satellite was getting ready at the ISRO Satellite Centre. The flight models were going through various levels of tests, he added. It would comprise an orbiter, lander and six-wheeled rover which would move around the landing site and instruments on it would send back data that would be useful in analysing the lunar soil. After reaching the lunar orbit, the Lander housing the rover will separate from the orbiter. After a controlled descent, the lander will soft land on the lunar surface at a specified site and deploy the rover. Director of ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre at Mahendragiri in Tamil Nadu Mr S Somanath said tests related to Chandrayan-II were underway at the centre also. “What we are trying to do is to prove the ability to do a soft landing (the rover). Tests are on to demonstrate soft landing in a simulated way,” he said. Terming it as a “wonderful task”, he said “we are trying to complete it in a short span of time and that is going on right now”. To a query on whether there was possibility of ISRO carrying out manned space mission, Mr Kumar said, “The possibility was always there for taking up such a mission but the government has to decide by giving resources.” On the future launches to be taken up by ISRO in 2018, Mr Kumar said the next launch will be a communication satellite. The GSLV-MkII first stage had been assembled and already completed integration. “They are going through process and it is targeted sometime next month (for launch),” he said. Beyond that, there would be MkIII and another PSLV which will carry navigation satellite IRNSS-1I. “We also have a number of launches almost every month one launch and we are going to work towards that”, Mr Kumar, who is retiring later this month, said. “We are trying to push the launch envelope to such an extent so that we have three of GSLV category and nine of PSLV category (this year). It is still quite a tough task”, he said. Referring to the unsuccessful launch of IRNSS-1H on 31 August last year, he said it was a peculiar case. “Very marginal deviation created a problem. Not withstanding that what we did is we went through a rigorous process of analysing and have made the system more robust”, the ISRO chief said. Mr Kumar said to identify the cause of the incident, a team was formed which carried out various simulations and review process were taken up by the scientists. “Each time you encounter a problem you come out of it. You need not worry about the failure. If you have not failed it means, you have not tried hard enough. So, we need not worry about set backs”, he said. Kumar said launch vehicle technology was a very complex thing and in spite of hundreds of successes, there can still be a failure. “That is why it is called as risky business. So what we need to clearly understand is that each time make the system more and more robust, learn the deficiency and keep improving”, he added. Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) Director Mr K Sivan, who has been named the successor to Kumar, termed as ‘excellent’ today’s launch and credited the entire ISRO team for the success.

He also noted that many international customers approached the ISRO for the launch immediately after the PSLV-C39 failure and it showed the confidence that they have in the agency’s workhorse launch vehicle. “We will be definitely meeting their expectations in the future also. This mission is definitely showing the green flag for the exciting high profile missions in 2018 such as the Chandryaan 2, GSLV mk 3 then GSAT-11,” he said. Director of Satish Dhawan Space Centre Mr P Kunhikrishnan lauded ISRO scientists for opening the year with a success. This mission proved the effectiveness of all corrective measures taken in PSLV C-40 “making the vehicle more robust and reliable,” he said.

Multiple projects were underway at the spaceport to ramp up ISRO’s launch capabilities, he said.

He said the second vehicle assembly building project was in the final phase of completion and it would meet the future launch requirements from the second launch pad.


DGCA grounds 11 A320 neos with P&W engines

With three incidents of mid-air engine failures in less than a month, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) ordered the immediate grounding of 11 A320 neo planes of IndiGo and GoAir that are powered with Pratt & Whitney engines. With this, 14 A320 neo aircraft fitted with specific series of engines — 11 are operated by IndiGo and 3 by GoAir — have now been grounded in the past one month. The DGCA action came soon after engine failure forcing emergency landing of an IndiGo flight at Ahmedabad airport. The grounding of these flights is expected to have an effect on the operations of both IndiGo and GoAir. According to an official statement, “keeping in mind the safety of aircraft operations, A320 neos fitted with PW1100 engines beyond ESN 450 have been grounded with immediate effect. Both IndiGo and GoAir have been told not to refit these engines, which are spare with them in their inventory.” Pratt and Whitney’s spokesperson said the firm was working closely with customers to minimise disruption. “The corrective action has been approved and we have already begun to deliver production engines with the upgraded configuration. We are working to mitigate the Aircraft on Ground (AOG) situation by the end of the second quarter. The DGCA said it will be in “touch with stakeholders and review the situation in due course and when the issue is addressed by European regulator EASA and P&W”. According to the DGCA, the P&W “in its latest communication has also not given any firm commitment” as to when the issue on the engine post serial number 450 would be resolved. P&W has also said that “all the affected engines will be replaced by early June 2018″, the DGCA said. However, there is “no concrete proposal in place at this stage to address the issue”, it added.


Sea Harrier to come up close to TU 142

Close to the TU 142 Aircraft Museum on the Beach Road, a decommissioned Sea Harrier jet fighter would be installed in the same premises to become part of the TU complex, said VUDA Vice-Chairman Mr P. Basanth Kumar here. The Sea Harrier, a fighter, reconnaissance and attack craft was operated from the aircraft carrier INS Viraat. They were inducted into the Navy in 1983 and decommissioned after 33 years of service in 2016. The Ministry of Defence offered the craft to the AP Tourism. It would be brought to Visakhapatnam from the Naval Air Station INS Hansa. A VUDA engineering team would go to Goa towards the week-end to see how it could be brought here, said Mr. Basanth Kumar. After dismantling, it could be transported in two trucks. The team with an architect would prepare estimates and work out other details. Whether its equipment could be showcased in the museum would also be known after the visit, he told reporters. The craft would be displayed on pillars and would have no walk-through facility. Dakamarri sites The allotment of housing plots at the Daakamarri joint venture would also be taken up. After the auction of plots, applications were invited for allotment to weaker sections. The allotment had been hanging fire for a long time now with the difference in price proving a hurdle. Though the VUDA at one point of time announced that it would be allotted Rs. 6,000 a square yard, the market rate now had gone up to Rs. 9,000. “Now we intend to take it up again and it will go to the Anomalies Committee as there is a variation in the price,” the Vice-Chairman said.


HAL gearing up to make 16 Tejas LCA a year, says CFO

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is enhancing its capacities to make improved versions of light combat aircraft (LCA), also known as Tejas, according to a top company official. The Centre had issued a request for proposal (RFP) for 83 LCA in December, setting the ball rolling for finalising the contract for the deal worth about ₹50,000 crore. In addition to the 83 Mk-1A to be ordered, there are 40 aircraft of earlier variants on order.

Delivery schedule

“We are enhancing our facilities to build 16 Tejas a year from eight now. All the Tejas [units] will be delivered in the next five years,” C.V. Ramana Rao, director (finance) and CFO, HAL. However, while the current production rate is eight aircraft per year, only six aircraft have been delivered to the IAF in the last two years, sources said. HAL is building the improved version of Tejas after getting feedback from the Indian Air Force. “The improvised version of Tejas would have an advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system, a new electronic warfare sensor suite and a new external refuelling capability,” according to Mr M. Mazhar Ali, executive director in-charge of planning and projects, HAL. The final contract for the procurement of 83 LCA is expected to be signed soon, according to sources. To take advantage of the government’s UDAN or regional connectivity scheme, HAL was in negotiations with airlines to sell the civilian version of Dornier 228 transport aircraft, the sources added.