Government encourages Airbus and Boeing to set up final assembly lines in India

The Modi government has sounded out aerospace majors Airbus and Boeing to set up final assembly lines in the country as these two are likely to get orders for nearly 2,000 aircraft from Indian airlines over the next decade or so.

In contemporary times, IndiGo was so far the only Indian carrier placing mega aircraft deals and inducting those planes — with its last 2019 firm order for 300 A320neo family aircraft taking the budget carrier’s total number of A320 family aircraft orders to 730.

In the next few weeks, the Tata Group is going to place a big order for hundreds of narrow and wide-body Boeing and Airbus for its in-the-works new Air India and low-cost Air India Express.

The government encourages Airbus and Boeing to set up final assembly lines in India

India is going to be among the top aviation markets globally thanks to a growing aspirational middle class for whom air travel is no longer a luxury but a necessity. International travellers have been filling up neighbouring hubs of foreign airlines for decades.

The acquisition of Air India and Air India Express by the Tatas and the pre-existing eminent position of IndiGo means India will have its mega carriers that will place mega orders. Then there are several smaller airlines too.

“We cannot be happy with the aircraft makers just buying components from India, whether with or without offset requirements. It is time Airbus, Boeing and engine majors set up final assembly lines here,” people in the know told TOI. Comments were sought on the issue from both the aircraft majors.

Sources in these companies say they are being increasingly nudged in that direction by the government. Last month, the commerce department sounded an alarm at the surge in the import of aircraft. The import of unladen aircraft (not loaded with goods or passengers) weighing 15,000 kg, valued at over USD 200 million, had increased 56.5% in April-September 2022 over the same period last year.

Imports of certain turbo jets had increased by 34% and helicopters of an unladen weight of more than 2,000 kg jumped by 42%, the commerce department had pointed out. Following this, the aviation ministry sought steps that could be taken to develop a strategy to bring down the trade deficit.

To be sure, having a final assembly line (FAL) in India means having the entire supply chain ecosystem in the vicinity— right from aircraft body, wings, assembled engines, seats and everything imaginable.

For instance, a leading engine major had last year replied that “we need to be close to aircraft FAL” in Toulouse and the US when asked if it planned to have a FAL in India. “The process will take some years but it must be started now to have the same in place in the next 3-4 years. Otherwise, it will remain a chicken-and-egg story,” said people in the know.

The government is of the view that now is the time to take the next step and make commercial aircraft in India too. Airbus has four A320 family assembly facilities around the world — Toulouse (France); Hamburg (Germany); Tianjin (China) and Mobile (US).

India’s IndiGo is the world’s largest customer of the A321neo family of aircraft.

The China FAL commenced operations in 2008 and last November it commissioned its first A321, something Airbus had described as deepening “collaboration with China’s aviation industry and demonstrates Airbus’ commitment to enhancing its long-term strategic partnership with China.” India’s IndiGo is the world’s largest customer of the A321neo family of aircraft.

Boeing has all its FALs in the US. It opened a completion centre in China where aircraft assembled in the US are flown to. Fitting of seats and aircraft painting is done in China, hence the name. People in the know say the critical things while deciding to set up a FAL in a country are the size of its market.

“Infrastructure including reliable power, hangars and availability of skilled manpower certified by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as every person touching an aircraft needs to be certified. An aircraft has millions of parts so supply chain processes and raw material availability need to be in place,” they say.

C295, Airbus, defense
Last October, Tatas and Airbus announced they will jointly make the C-295 transport aircraft for the Indian Air Force in Gujarat.

Finally, aircraft manufacturers worry if customer orders do not specifically seek guarantees that planes not be made in some places. For instance, when Boeing opened its second B787 FAL and delivery facility in South Carolina’s Charleston about 15 years ago, some airlines specifically said they wanted their Dreamliners to be from the Seattle FAL.

Some years later when airlines realised that the B787s from both the FALs are the same quality-wise, then they dropped these pre-conditions, say people in the know. Last October, Tatas and Airbus announced they will jointly make the C-295 transport aircraft for the Indian Air Force in Gujarat.

The defence ministry had at that time described this as “the first project of its kind in which a military aircraft will be manufactured in India by a private company.” Till now, only state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics makes aircraft for the armed forces.

(With Inputs from The Times of India)

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