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Long wait for Airbus to bag replacement contract for IAF’s Avros

The wait is getting longer for Airbus, the European defence and aerospace aircraft major, to bag the over Rs 10,000 crore contract from Indian Air Force (IAF) for supply of 56 transport aircraft, which is a replacement for the ageing fleet of Avro transport aircraft.

Airbus along with Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) was the sole bidder for this contract, which was floated by IAF in May 2013.

The government is in a dilemma over awarding the contract to Airbus as no other bidder had shown interest. The IAF intends to replace its ageing Hawker Siddeley 748 Avro aircraft fleet, with many of them in use for over four decades. The manufacturing of Avro had ceased in 1988.

The European major Airbus Defence and Space has pitched its C-295, the twin-turboprop tactical military transport aircraft, priced around $ 30 million per piece. It is currently manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space in Spain.

The Ministry of Defence had asked eight global vendors to submit Request for Proposals (RFP). The vendors include Boeing, Ilyushin of Russia, Antonov of Ukraine, Franco-German consortium EADS (now rechristened Airbus), Embraer of Brazil and Alenia Aeromacchi of Italy.

However, only Airbus responded by offering its 9.5 tonne class C295 aircraft, which had first flown in 1997. ?We were the only one to respond,? a senior spokesman from Airbus told Business Standard on the sidelines of international air show, Aero India 2015.

In 2012, N A K Brown, the then Air Chief Marshal, had mooted developing a replacement for the aging Avro. But, he insisted that as the only player with the wherewithal to develop the aircraft in India, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, was overburdened and it was necessary to involve the private sector in such a project. At that time Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA) had not been mooted.

Then a proposal was made that a foreign player could join the bid, but should have a local partner. The Airbus along with the Tata Advanced Systems (TAS) based in Hyderabad had bid for the project. TAS makes helicopter structures and will be a single vendor in the partnership.

The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), according to a senior IAF official, has met twice, but no call has been taken on the matter yet. “A third meeting of DAC is expected to take place soon,” the official said.

On the need for a small transport aircraft, a retired IAF official said, “For small tasks such as flood relief you don’t need a big transport aircraft as it is a waste of resources as is happening today. The C295 fits well for minor operations. Any re-tendering will be a major set-back at this juncture and will finally have to involve the HAL.”

The aircraft is now used by the Spanish Air Force, Portuguese Air Force, Brazilian Air Force and Polish Air Force.

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