Indian aviation may be in the dumps currently with airlines cutting down on operations and passengers gravitating towards trains, but aircraft manufacturer Airbus continues to remain upbeat about its future in India. Not only is the European major expecting the next wave of orders from India's airlines in three to four years' time, it is also considering the country as one of the key centres for design and development of its long-haul A350 plane, set to take on rival Boeing's much publicized 787 Dreamliner.
''As Air India, Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines look to compete in the international arena there is likely to be need for more aircraft. We expect that the next big wave of orders will come in 2011-12 by when these airlines will have completed the delivery of the aircraft already ordered. The airlines will need aircraft to continue on the growth path that they have embarked on. Besides, there will also be need for freighter aircraft,'' Dr Kiran Rao, Executive Vice- President, Sales and Marketing, Airbus, said.
Commenting on the current downturn in the sector, Dr Rao insisted that its Indian customers have not cancelled any order of the flagship A-380 planes and the merger of Kingfisher-Deccan led to a combined order of 200 aircraft, though the airline has asked for rescheduling of deliveries. (See: Kingfisher Airlines defers A320 deliveries)
"All other airlines will get planes on schedule as there is no request for deferred deliveries. We were in touch with Kingfisher-Deccan when the merger was on and felt that together the aircraft intake could not be as fast as for two different airlines. Airbus offers flexibility of schedule to customers and that's what happened with Kingfisher," Dr Rao, who was in India to attend Kingfisher's launch of global operation, said. (See: Deccan Aviation-Kingfisher Airlines cleared to commence international services)
As for the future, he was largely positive. Although there would be a slackening of the fervent pace as seen in recent years, he still felt that growth would by no means stop. "In 2008, all planes are being delivered as per schedule. In 2009 and 2010, instead of 50 planes, we will be delivering 40 planes every year - one every week," he said.
Without going into specifics, Dr Rao pointed out that both Boeing and Airbus had predicted that India would require about 1,000 aircraft over the next 20 years. ''Airbus and Boeing together have already delivered about 500 aircraft. My guess is that about 250 aircraft will be required in the next wave of deliveries while another wave of deliveries of about the same number will see the domestic airline industry touch 1,000 aircraft deliveries over the next 20 years,'' he said. (See: India's aviation sector needs 1,000 planes over 20 years: Airbus and India to be world's largest civil aviation market by 2025: Society of Indian Aerospace Technologies and Industries)
Moreover, he announced plans to make India an Airbus hub. Designing work for the A350 is the next project for the Airbus Engineering Centre India, the company's high-tech aircraft component manufacturing facility in Bangalore, which started functioning in April last year.
"The A350 is the next big project for us. The engineers at the facility are currently working on the development of tools to design the aircraft. We will soon get the software for analyzing the stress and strain on aeroplanes. We are working on the structural analysis of the aircraft among other things,'' Dr Rao said.
He said that Airbus was recruiting engineers for the work every month. The centre has 35 engineers and the number is supposed to grow to 300 in the next four years.
The A350 XWB (Xtra Wide Body), the new and improved version of the A350, has been built to take on the Boeing 777 family and some of the models of the Boeing 787. The aircraft has a wider fuselage, which makes it possible for it to accommodate nine people in every row.
"We have already sold (which means received orders) 480 A350s, out of which 15 to 20 are being bought by Kingfisher," said Rao. The aircraft will be put into service from 2013.
Airbus has been looking at various ways to use India for both component manufacture, as well as leverage its research and development potential. The first manufacturing agreement was with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd in 1998 to make doors for the A320.
"More than half the doors for the Airbus 320 are produced in Bangalore. And as we increase the production of A320s to 40 aircraft a month, which is the largest number of civil aircraft ever produced per month in the aviation industry history, more than 20 sets of doors will be produced in Bangalore every month," said Rao.