Dholera set to host India’s first full spectrum aerospace complex in the private sector

India’s first private sector aircraft manufacturing facility and its associated industrial ecosystem are likely to be located at the Dholera Special Investment Region in Gujarat, BW Businessworld has learnt from informed sources.

Dholera is being developed as a prominent node on the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, about 100 km south-west of Ahmedabad.

Airbus is to manufacture 40 C-295MW military transport in India in partnership with an Indian consortium led by Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) under a $2.8 Billion contract signed with India’s Ministry of Defence in September 2021.

This will be the first full spectrum ‘Make in India’ aerospace programme in the private sector involving development of a complete industrial ecosystem from manufacture to assembly, test and qualification to delivery and maintenance over the complete life cycle of the aircraft.

A concurrent offsets contract obligates Airbus Defence & Space to source equipment and systems worth 30 per cent of the value of the C-295MW contract from Indian partners. The manufacturing facilities of the Indian offsets partners are also likely to be co-located at Dholera.

This complex could be the centrepiece of the Dholera Special Investment Region’s Aviation Zone and MRO Hub planned adjacent to an in-the-works greenfield international airport. Besides manufacturing units, the plan for the Aviation Zone includes an aviation academy, flight training institute and MRO facilities for airframes, engines and C&D checks.

“The C295MW program will see Airbus bring its complete bouquet of world-class aircraft manufacturing and servicing to India in collaboration with our industrial partners, including the Tatas and leading defence public sector units such as Bharat Electronics Ltd. and Bharat Dynamics Ltd, apart from private Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises,” a joint statement issued by Airbus and TASL released after the signing of the contract had added.

This private sector aircraft manufacturing complex ending the long-running monopoly of the public sector behemoth, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

The Dholera airport will have two runways of 4,000 metres and 2,910 metres respectively. These would be essential to the flight-testing facility for the Airbus-Tata complex. Based upon the project reports prepared by the Airports Authority of India and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Ministry of Defence has issued a No-Objection certificate for the construction of an international airport. An in-principle approval has been given by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Environment clearance for the project has been obtained from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

A 1,426-acre land parcel at Navagam village has been reserved for the Dholera airport, declared an ‘Early Bird Project’ by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation and the Government of Gujarat.

Under the Buy and Make (Global) contract with Airbus, the first lot of 16 C-295MW aircraft will be delivered in a fly-away condition from the Airbus assembly line in Seville, Spain within four years. The subsequent lot of 40 aircraft will be manufactured, assembled and tested at the Indian assembly line.

All 56 aircraft are to be delivered to the Indian Air Force in 10 years. The aircraft will be equipped with an electronic warfare suite developed indigenously in India.

Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Tata Advanced Systems Limited Sukaran Singh termed the deal as a big moment for the Make in India agenda. “This is a moment of pride for Tatas and a milestone for the Indian military manufacturing ecosystem. For the first time, an Indian private company will be wholly manufacturing an aircraft in India. This endeavour demonstrates Tata Advanced Systems’ capabilities as a defence manufacturer to build globally competitive complex platforms in India," Singh had stated after the signing of the contract.

CEO of Airbus Defence and Space Michael Schoellhorn said the Indian contract will enlarge the footprint of the C-295 both operationally as well as industrially. “This contract will support the further development of India’s aerospace ecosystem, bringing investment and 15,000 skilled direct jobs and 10,000 indirect positions over the coming 10 years,” he said in a statement.

The C-295MW will replace the ageing and obsolete Avro-748 fleet of the IAF. It is a tactical airlifter in the 5-to-10-ton category which can land on short or unprepared airstrips. It has a proven capacity to airlift up to 71 troops or 50 paratroopers and carry logistical loads to locations that are not accessible to heavier aircraft. The C-295MW can perform special missions as well as disaster relief and maritime patrol duties and carry out medical evacuations.

“After completion of the delivery, the subsequent aircraft manufactured in India can be exported to countries which are cleared by the Government of India,” the Ministry of Defence stated.