By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 6th Feb 13
The transition could hardly be starker from cold, rain-lashed Delhi to the balmy sunshine of Bangalore. Rushing to Palam Airport in a plume of spray through foot-deep water from an overnight thunderstorm, it seemed an open question whether the flight to Bangalore could break through the grey clouds overhead. The passengers, many of them obviously en route to Aero India 2013, sighed as the aircraft lifted off. They had all paid Rs 25,000 for a one-way ticket to Bangalore, the usual price the day before India’s premier air show begins.
Aero India is a big occasion in Bangalore. The city is spruced up and plastered with signposts that guide visitors to Air Force Station Yelahanka, where the 9th edition of the air show will be held from Feb 6-10th. For Bangalore’s hotels, this is clean-up time. The five stars price their standard rooms at 25-30,000 rupees per night, while the more modest properties settle for Rs 15,000, without breakfast.
We enter the show area, our radio-ID security passes (obtained a month in advance after careful security vetting) being quickly scanned by a security system that is getting nimbler with each passing Aero India. The security concern is obvious, with AK-47 toting police commandos reinforced by vehicle-borne patrols of the Garudas, the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) commando force.
Also in place is a comprehensive disaster response plan. Nobody says it out loud, but an air show can be a dangerous place, with aircraft performing aerobatics at the limits of their capabilities directly above thousands of spectators. On July 27, 2002, at an air show in Ukraine, a Sukhoi-27 fighter of the Ukrainian Air Force crashed into spectators, killing 77 and injuring 543.
But there’s little sense of danger amongst the estimated two lakh visitors to Aero India 2013 who will flock to Yelahanka over the next five days. Instead, there is a carnival atmosphere, with food stalls gearing up to do a roaring business.
Inside the display hangars, there is déjà vu. Russian exhibitors, with ponderous names like Rosoboronexport, Oboronexport and Rostec invariably deploy tall, leggy blondes who apparently know little about defence systems. The real business is done in the back rooms where meetings continue all day.
The Israeli companies, as always, are bunched together, guarded by a posse of dark-suited young Israelis with VIP badges who man each corner talking rapidly into small, portable radios, apparently believing they are innocuous in their dark glasses and bulked up suits that betray the bullet proof jackets inside.
Then there are the gigantic stalls rented by the MoD-owned defence production agencies, apparently competing to provide revenue to the organiser, the MoD-owned Defence Exhibition Organisation. The largest display --- a massive 2,561 square metres --- is that of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), whose Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) hopes to make a splash in the skies, flying daily aerobatic displays. Inside, there is a mock-up of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), which is still at the concept stage.
But the meat and drink of an air show is the flying displays. Featuring this year are The Russian Knights, flying Sukhoi-27 fighters; F-16 fighters from the US Air Force; the “Flying Bulls” team from the Czech Republic that flies vintage, pre-World War II aircraft, and the Indian Air Force’s helicopter display team, Sarang, which flies the indigenous Dhruv helicopter. A notable absentee is the IAF’s Surya Kiran aerobatics team, which is currently being reconstituted with the Hawk trainer, which will replace the Kiran Mark II that it has flown for decades.
On the ground, Aero India 2013 is larger than the previous edition. While Aero India 2011 attracted 600 companies from 29 countries, who rented 75,000 square metres of exhibition space; Aero India 2013 has 700 companies, 78 overseas delegations, and 1,25,000 square metres of display area.
These include exhibitors from the US, Israel, Russia, France, UK, Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy, Ukraine, Australia, Belarus, Czech Republic, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, UAE and Singapore.