About 3 km inside the Mihan-SEZ, a largely desolate area, ‘DRAL’ reads a signboard outside a fenced plot flanked by expanses of vacant land. DRAL stands for Dassault Reliance Aviation Limited (DRAL), the name linked with the Rafale controversy.A shed spread over a 10,000 square feet area is the only workplace as of now. It houses the full workforce of around 50 persons engaged by DRAL. There are 8 to 10 personnel deputed from Dassault, the French joint venture partner of Reliance Aerostructure Limited (RAL), who are training the Indian staff.

The unit is initially making nose cones for Falcon, the business jet Dassault manufactures, which also makes the Rafale fighter. No work related to Rafale has begun yet, though the company has an approval to make spares for military planes as well, sources said. A month ago, letters of approval (LoA) had been secured from the ministry of commerce for two more units at the Mihan-SEZ. These include a Reliance-Thales joint venture, and another company — Reliance Components.

Thales is a French multinational, which has plans for a radar systems testing unit in Nagpur. Reliance Components is slated to pick up miscellaneous orders to make aircraft parts, a source said. Anil Ambani’s Reliance Aerostructure Limited (RAL) is under fire these days, for allegedly having been favoured against public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited(HAL) to implement the offset arrangement arising out of government’s deal to buy 36 Rafale fighters from Dassault.

Manufacturing under the offset deal, pegged to be worth over Rs 30,000 crore, will take place at the Mihan-SEZ. RAL had been allotted 105 acres here in 2015, before the Rafale deal took place. The area is named Dhirubhai Ambani Aerospace Park. Outsiders are not welcome. “We only allow those who have business with us,” replied a stern voice over the phone at the security booth.

RAL has co-developer status, which means it can lease out plots to other entities. DRAL, the joint venture between RAL and Dassault, is the first lessee. It is learnt that a hangar is being built on an area of over 30 acres, where ‘core production’ will take place. DRAL has over 60 acres under it and once the hangar is built the commercial production of aircraft spares will kick off. As the French team trains the Indian workforce, production of spares has begun. With this, the countdown for DRAL to start earning foreign exchange under SEZ laws has also started.

Commercial operations, which means actual supply to Dassault, may start by next year, said sources involved in the developments. With approvals to make spares and assemblies for military aircraft too, DRAL is in position to make spares for Rafale in the future, if needed, but so far nothing has been announced, said sources. DRAL has five years to start earning foreign exchange, or else the approval will be cancelled.