In collaboration with renowned European aviation giant Airbus, the manufacturing process for the C-295 transport aircraft has been initiated at TATA Group’s Hyderabad facility. This cutting-edge aircraft will replace the ageing Avro fleet currently utilized by the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Six skilled pilots have successfully completed their comprehensive training in Spain, while the first wave of aircraft engineers from the IAF is currently undergoing specialized training. This essential training will enable them to proficiently conduct aircraft maintenance at the ten designated operational bases where the C-295s will be stationed.
The IAF has also entered into a five-year Performance-Based Logistics (PBL) agreement with Airbus, making the company contractually obligated to ensure 85 per cent availability for the fleet at any point in time. This means that at any point in time, 85 percent of the fleet has to be operationally ready.
The ambitious procurement plan of the IAF entails the acquisition of 56 C-295 aircraft, each boasting an impressive cargo capacity of up to 9 tonnes. Remarkably, Airbus has expressed its ongoing discussions with both the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard for a potential additional procurement of 15 aircraft, nine of which would be specifically deployed for maritime surveillance missions.
An intriguing development has surfaced from sources within the defence and security establishment, indicating that the Border Security Force (BSF), which also operates Avro aircraft, is keenly exploring the acquisition of C-295 aircraft.
Furthermore, the TATA Group, with its inherent commitment to excellence, is considering the prospect of marketing this advanced aircraft to other nations, potentially opening up promising opportunities.
Addressing the future growth of the C-295 program, Jean-Brice Dumont, Head of Military Air Systems at Airbus, asserted that they are dedicated to fulfilling their mandate to produce 56 aircraft, with 40 of them being assembled in India. He expressed great optimism about the aircraft’s prospects, emphasizing its significance to the nation. Dumont acknowledged the scale of the project, acknowledging that while 56 aircraft may be deemed substantial, it is also modest in certain contexts. He speculated on the possibility of regional opportunities arising from aircraft operations facilitated in India.
Talking about the ongoing work on the C-295 aircraft, Airbus officials said the first aircraft will be handed over to the IAF this September and the second is already on the final assembly line and will be delivered in May next year.
According to the Rs 21,000-crore deal with Airbus Defence and Space, Spain signed in September 2021, the first 16 aircraft will be delivered in ‘fly-away’ condition from its final assembly line here in Seville, Spain. The delivery is to be completed by September 2025.
The remaining 40 aircraft will be manufactured and assembled by TATA Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) in India as part of an industrial partnership between the two companies.
The first India-made aircraft will be delivered in 2026 and the remaining 39 will be delivered by 2031.
“Work on the Main Constituent Assembly (MCA) Line at the TASL facility in Hyderabad has begun this month,” said Jorge Tamarit, Head of Airbus’s C-295 India programme. MCA is the initial assembly of various parts. The rear fuselage will be the first to be worked upon.
While a majority of the work will be done in Hyderabad and production of parts will be done at the TASL facility in Nagpur, the final assembly line will be set up in Gujarat’s Vadodara by mid-next year. Parts like fuselage and others made in Hyderabad will be shipped to Gujarat for the final assembly.
Tamarit said that with 56 aircraft, the IAF will be the largest operator of the fleet in the world, though there are 34 other countries that use this aircraft.
Incidentally, this will be the first time in history that an Indian private company will make an aircraft. “We are building a full production system in India and this is a first for Airbus,” Tamarit told a select group of reporters here. He added that Airbus does have a final assembly line or pre-assembly line in some countries but not the full production system.
Talking about the collaboration with TATA, Tamarit said it involves nearly 90 per cent of technology transfer. In terms of man hours, the aircraft will be built wholly in India from the 30th aircraft onwards, he added. This means that there will be no work done by Airbus on the rest of the orders outside the country.
Airbus officials said 14,000 parts of the aircraft are being indigenised by the TATA group at the rate of about 4,000 every year. The only parts that will not be indigenised are those which are non-Airbus – like the landing gear, engine, and avionics.
Further, Airbus is also setting up a training centre for the IAF in Agra which will have simulators and will be completed by the end of 2024. In addition, Uttar Pradesh will host a warehouse for the C-295 parts. India is also in talks with Airbus to set up a maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) hub for this aircraft, which is operated by a number of countries in the region, including the UAE, the Philippines, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Indonesia.