BANGALORE: Right next to the Bengaluru international airport, on about 40 acres of land, a massive new building is coming up. The external finishing work is on. The building will host what will be Boeing’s largest engineering and product development facility outside its Seattle headquarters.

Boeing is investing almost Rs 1,500 crore on it. It will eventually have some 3,000 people working there. It will have software development divisions, a variety of laboratories, testing and maintenance facilities. It will have a taxiway coming in from the airport.

The project is said to have slowed down because of the troubles in Boeing – the 737 Max issues and the pandemic. But Boeing already has a significant engineering and R&D facility here that has been engaged in R&D in next-generation airplane health management, environment-friendly coatings, advanced networks, and secure communication. “Our IT & data analytics teams are developing tools and systems that enable the rapid transformation of Boeing into a digital enterprise ,” says Bala Bharadvaj, MD at Boeing India Engineering & Technology Centre.

Almost every major global aerospace company today has a significant engineering presence in India because aircrafts are becoming digital products, and the aircraft makers need India’s quality talent in software, simulation and electronics. Ashmita Sethi, country head of Pratt & Whitney, says India has significant talent, research, innovation and engineering productivity to offer to the world.

The govt has revised its Rs 3-lakh-crore emergency credit line guarantee scheme to include fresh loans to 26 stressed sectors identified by the KV Kamath-headed committee, and healthcare sector. Earlier, the Extended Credit Line Guarantee Scheme was available only to small businesses. The revised scheme extends it to stressed sectors, irrespective of turnover.

“A great example of this is the progress Indian start-ups have made in enabling step-change innovation in aerospace. They’ve been able to bring their AR/VR, machine learning, analytics and IoT expertise – and apply it to create some truly unique innovations and solutions for aerospace,” she says.

Vimal Menon, partner in consultancy firm Zinnov, says the aerospace tech centres collectively employ 10,000 engineers, from branches including mechanical, aerospace, electrical, electronics and software. Bengaluru is the biggest hub in India, followed by Hyderabad and Pune. Greenfield investment monitor FDI Markets finds that Bengaluru was the third most preferred location, after Singapore and London, for aerospace investment. An estimated total of more than 7,000 aerospace jobs were created in the city between 2015 and 2019, the highest amongst all countries analysed.

GE Aviation, which started as a back office operation here, has grown exponentially over the last 10 years, employing about 1,000 engineers, as it started developing new products. Vikram Reddy, GM of engineering at GE Aviation, says the India team worked on the GEnx engine, the fastest-selling, highthrust jet engine in GE Aviation history.

“Our team here has a significant stake in the product development in every step of GEnx. Most products would have a contribution of 20-40% from the team here,” he says. That includes development of fan blades using composite materials and analysing them.

Honeywell India president Akshay Bellare says their centre has top-class talent in simulation and modelling, and India does most of the work in this space, including simulating engine failures to improve designs. The centre also works on flight navigation systems design, on auxiliary power units, and on the graphics inside cockpits. “We even have pilots to guide the design of cockpit systems. Our capability here is no different from that in our headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona,” says Bellare.

Delta Airlines opened a tech hub earlier this year in Bangalore to work on data science/ analytics, cyber security, enterprise architecture, AI/ML and digital channels including and the Fly-Delta app. Rolls-Royce’s engineering centre here focuses on the development of new tools and technologies, including contributing to global design and processes.

Lockheed Martin India CEO William Blair says their centre here is investing in design and development of composites for Aerostructures that will be of high value to the aerospace and defence industry. The company’s joint venture, Tata Lockheed Martin Aerostructures, supplies C-130J empennages (the tail assembly) and components globally to Lockheed Martin.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit aviation more than almost any other industry, has slowed down the pace of technology work. But most centres say work has not stopped, though in some cases, the direction of work has changed.

Remi Maillard, MD of Airbus India and South Asia, says an area their Bangalore R&D centre is focusing more on because of the pandemic is sustainability. “We are committed to lead the way in decarbonisation of the entire aviation industry. We intend to bring a zero emission aircraft in the next decade. We believe that hydrogen-based fuel planes will be a clear game changer. It’s safe, versatile, light-weight, storable, has high energy density and produces only water and vapour as by-products,” he says.

Dassault Systemes, which has large R&D centres in Pune and Bengaluru, says the pandemic has put digital transformation efforts at the forefront. “One of the first problems we faced during Covid was figuring out how to have a reduced workforce without sacrificing output levels. So, we developed a resource optimisation engine that looks at all the resources available and uses optimisation algorithms to allocate resources,” says the company’s industry director for aerospace & defence in India, Ravikiran Pothukuchi.

Honeywell’s India team has built a portable ultraviolet system to sanitise airplane cabin surfaces. Many airlines are testing this out. “Aerospace technologies take years to develop, to get approvals. If you stop, it impacts the overall plan. So, it would be short-sighted for us to stop development,” says Bellare.