Air Transportation: Airbus Makes History In South Asia

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September 24, 2021: India completed negotiations for importing and building under license 56 C-295MW transports. The Spanish Airbus division developed and manufactures this 23-ton twin-turboprop aircraft from the earlier CN-235. The MW model is a recent (2014) upgrade of the military version. The C-295 has been in service since 2001 with about 200 built so far. India becomes the 16th nation to purchase the C-295 and will be the largest user with this $2.6 billion deal. Within 48 months of the contract signing Airbus will deliver 16 aircraft while TATA, a major Indian commercial firm will build, under license, the remaining 40 within ten years of contract signing. Many of the components will be obtained from Indian firms. TATA will also qualify to establish and operate an MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) operation for Indian C-295s and those of other users in the region. This is the first time India has allowed a commercial firm to manufacture military aircraft under license. Previously only government owned factories did this and the quality suffered as did the ability to meet budgets and delivery dates. Indian commercial firms are much better at this and able to compete in global markets.

The C-295s will replace about fifty similar but elderly (production ceased in 1988) British HS 748s. This model entered service in 1961 and was a popular twin-engine transport with 380 built. The Indian version was manufactured under license by state owned HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) which was never as competitive in the international market as commercial firms like TATA, which has flourished in non-military markets, especially after India lifted many of its restrictions on private firms in the 1990s.

The C-295 has a max payload of nine tons and max cruise speed of 480 kilometers an hour. The most common payload is seven tons and max ferry range (no payload, just extra fuel) is 5,000 kilometers. Carrying a four-ton load, it can fly 4,500 kilometers or 1,400 kilometers with max payload. Basically, the C-295 is a stretched version of the earlier CN-235 aircraft, so it was a mature design to begin with. There are several military variants for things like maritime surveillance, AEW&C (airborne early warning and control), fire-fighting, search and rescue, SIGINT (signals intelligence), aerial tanker and gunship. Most C-295s are the M (military) version with a rear cargo ramp and able to carry 71 troops, 48 paratroopers. 27 stretcher patients, five standard cargo pallets or three light vehicles. It wasn’t until 2017 that a commercial (passengers or cargo) version was ordered.

With the TATA deal India has taken another step in its program to establish more co-production deals for military equipment. India has eliminated the morass of restrictions on licensed production of military systems that long kept foreign firms out even though the terms the foreigners offered were used successfully with many other foreign customers. This left India unable to get the best equipment available for its military in a timely and affordable manner. Often India was forced to import critical items built outside India because of the political and bureaucratic resistance to standard co-production terms which guaranteed protection of foreign patents and trade secrets. India insisted on owning more than half of any foreign production and had a reputation for ignoring foreign patents or trade secrets. Meanwhile commercial firms like TATA could work with foreign firms using standard licensing terms, and the success of companies like TATA played a large role in overcoming the political and bureaucratic resistance to such terms for military equipment.

 


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