Unfazed by the cancellation of its proposed deal to sell 197 helicopters to the Indian Army, the world's largest chopper maker Eurocopter has inked a deal with a French manufacturer of precision aerospace parts to enable it to establish a presence in the Indian market.
In signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Brittany-based Mach Aero, Eurocopter also hopes to consolidate its footprint in India, where it has had a 40-year presence as a partner of the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
"This agreement is one step further in terms of developing industrial partnerships with India and Indian markets that will benefit the Fennec (that was bidding for the Indian Army order) and any other helicopters we are offering to the Indian government," Bangalore-based Bruno Boulnois, who heads Eurocopter's India based operations, told IANS.
"What we are doing is helping build a good industrial base here," he said after Bert Stegkemper, executive vice president for Eurocopter's global supply chain operations and Jean Malonda, the Mach Aero chairman, inked the MoU Monday at the DEFEXPO-2008 international exposition here.
"We are not only leveraging the partnership we have with HAL for more than 40 years but also with the private industries that are now emerging in India.
"The third aspect is that by involving the best suppliers we have in Europe, we have them bringing to India their own technologies and skills and making the industrial companies here grow to a level of production and quality which is the best in the world," Boulnois maintained.
According to Stegkemper, the MoU "is just another sign of our international engagement into the Indian supplies market. We are engaging more and more in the supply chain, in engineering, in manufacturing and IT services."
Mach Aero has been a significant part of Eurocopter's global supply chain for sophisticated parts for helicopters for several years. Apart from Eurocopter, Indian aerospace industry leaders are also likely to be benefited from Mach Aero's set-up in India as the French firm has been successfully providing precision parts for the Fennec and Tiger range of Eurocopter machines.
"The overall evolution and maturity of the aerospace industry in any country primarily depends on the development of an effective globally competitive supply chain wherein OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and specialised manufacturers have a very vital role to play," Stegkemper explained.
Introducing Mach Aero to India "is a part of Eurocopter's much broader vision for Indian aerospace industry, which is not restricted by any offset obligation," he added.
Reading between the lines, what this statement means is that Eurocopter is willing to look beyond the cancellation of the proposed Indian Army order - for which it has said it might bid again when a fresh request for proposal (RFP) is floated.
India's Defence Procurement Procedure contains a key offset clause that mandates that 30 percent of all military deals valued at over Rs.3 billion be reinvested in the country.
Eurocopter was on the point of bagging the Indian Army deal when this was abruptly cancelled late last year on the ground that the company had fielded the Ecureuil civilian and not the Fennec military version at the trials.
Eurocopter vehemently fought back, saying it had made it clear from the very beginning that it had sent the civilian version as its parameters were similar to the military version but this cut no ice with the Indian defence ministry.
A fresh global tender is now on the cards, even as the Indian Army desperately needs new helicopters to replace the ageing 1970s-vintage Chetaks and Cheetahs as it modernises and expands its Army Aviation Corps (AAC) to meet current and future rapid mobility battlefield requirements.
Ironically, Eurocopter has been assisting HAL in upgrading the Chetaks and Cheetahs and ensuring they remain airworthy.
Eurocopter also sources components from HAL for the Ecureuil and other helicopters it manufactures.
Eurocopter is an arm of European aerospace giant EADS. Another arm of the conglomerate builds the Eurofighter Typhoon that is one of the contenders for an Indian Air Force (IAF) order for 126 multi role combat aircraft.
With more than 10,000 machines in service with over 2,800 customers in 140 countries, Eurocopter offers the largest civil and military helicopter range in the world.
Indo-Asian News Service