India’s AERO INDIA show will likely be held over three months early in October-November this year, instead of the expected February 2019. The most dramatic change, however, as reported earlier by Livefist, is that the show shifts out of its traditional home in Yelahanka in Bengaluru to the Bakshi Ka Talab air force base in Lucknow in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. A decision to the effect is likely to be made today by the Indian Ministry of Defence, confirming speculation that has swirled for weeks.
To those asking, yes, there’s strong likelihood that 2019’s Aero India show will be at the Bakshi ka Talab air force base on the outskirts of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. If that happens, it’ll be the first time the show has shifted out of Yelahanka, Karnataka since it began in 1996. pic.twitter.com/yZSDvBXSDl
— Livefist (@livefist) August 4, 2018
The announcement is expected to be made today by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh where she will preside over the launch of projects under the current government’s UP Defence Industrial Corridor, an investment zone that will pass through Aligarh, Agra, Jhansi, Kanpur, Lucknow and Chitrakoot. In a statement last month, the UP Government said, “The Defence Industrial Corridor has the potential to attract investment worth Rs 50,000 crore and create 2.5 lakh job avenues in the next five years. For the corridor, in Bundelkhand, almost 3,000 hectare land has been identified by UP Expressways Industrial Development Authority, and there acquisition is proposed.”
The Aero India show has had its share of troubles — including infrastructure and availability of airspace for flight displays — but Bengaluru has always been understood to be the logical ground for such a show, considering it plugs right into India’s aerospace hub, is easy to access internationally, quite apart from the fact that the show hasn’t moved from Yelahanka in the 22 years since it began.
The Modi government already demonstrated in 2016 — and then again earlier this year — that it wouldn’t treat as hard and fast the default locations of Indian defence shows. In 2016, the traditionally Delhi-based DefExpo show was shifted to Goa and then to Chennai earlier this year. While the perception is that the show was moved to Goa by a Goan defence minister at the time (Manohar Parrikar) and to Chennai by a Tamil defence minister (Nirmala Sitharaman, the incumbent), the government’s official position has been that the show needs to fuel defence interest and investments in a wider part of the country. But while there may have been a case to shift the DefExpo show out of Delhi, the move to shift Aero India from Bengaluru to Lucknow is proving to be more contentious. And once again, with elections less than a year away, the shift of a major show to the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh is unignorable.
India heads into a series of elections in the northern states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (among others) at the end of this year, with a national election slated for early 2019. It is well established that winning a national election in India requires a strong performance in the constituency-rich state of Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress party, currently engaged in a fierce dogfight with the Modi government at the Centre over the Rafale deal, has quickly latched onto the move to shift Aero India out of Karnataka, where the party shares power in a coalition arrangement. The chief of the party there has written a strongly worded letter to the Defence Minister asking why the show needed to be shifted out.
Politics in Karnataka heats up over Aero India show. Congress questions Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman over the rationale to possibly shift the show to Lucknow. Congress says this step could impact Karnataka's Defence Sector. @INCKarnataka @nsitharaman @dineshgrao pic.twitter.com/hmgy7ZhgtO
— Isheeta Bali (@isheetab) August 7, 2018
Karnataka Congress leader Nivedith Alva tweeted, “The Union Govt is taking away Aero India from Bengaluru, which we have hosted since 1996. How does Lucknow compare to Bengaluru?”
But politics between the Congress and BJP aside, holding Aero India in a separate location over three months early and announcing it with less than three months notice has alarmed vendors and exhibitors, who’ve had to plan their next moves purely through whispers and speculation over the last few weeks. To be sure, there have been mixed reactions overall to the move.
Former IAF fighter pilot and veteran Air Marshal Anil Chopra (Retd) says, “I have been to BKT (Bakshi ka Talab) recently. Free area on airfield, yes. Very poor approach roads. Air space availability better than Yelahanka as Lucknow has less traffic than BIAL. But the aviation industry and DRDO are too far. Quality accommodation not available. Overall not a great idea at all.”
On the other hand, Ratan Shrivastava, Head of Defence Exports at Ashok Leyland and Honorary Advisor to the FICCI Space Division says, “To be honest, it will be a good choice. BKT (Bakshi Ka Talab) is much better and an organized venue. A little out of town with a clear route to the base via a highway and elevated road. Good Hotels and infrastructure. It has HAL Lucknow, 2 IAF bases and in the middle of the new Defence Corridor.”
Another veteran Col. Danvir Singh Chauhan says, “Aero India Show 2019 can be held anywhere, Bangalore or Lucknow. Both cities are in India . However, Lucknow is an ideal place for this event as UP’s, Bundelkhand is designated as Defence Corridor.”
Livefist also spoke to a host of exhibitors on how the altered dates, location and short notice affects their plans for Aero India. None were willing to speak on the record.
“We’ve begun moving equipment and placing orders for movement of kit based purely on what we’ve heard through our contacts on the ground. Delaying those decisions any further would mean a financial penalty on our exhibition budgets and these are typically very tight,” an executive with an American aircraft manufacturer told Livefist.
Considering that the movement of aircraft and equipment is planned at least a year in advance, questions now explode over just what the quality of the flying and static display will be this year at the show. MoD sources said all efforts would be made to ease passage and clearances at all levels to ensure maximum participation.
Another concern is that defence trade shows like the EuroNaval in end October and Indonesia’s Indo Defence show in early November would possibly clash the likely Aero India dates — or add huge pressure on exhibitors who’ve planned for those shows already.
An exective with a radar and sensors firm said, “It doesn’t matter where we exhibit, but I hope the decision has been thought through properly. The Aero India show, it should be remembered, is not just about India but about the region at large. This show reaches out to several other countries in the region.”
Yusuf Unjhawala, who edits the popular Defence Forum India tells Livefist, “The decision to shift India’s premier air show Aero India from Bangalore where it has been staged since its inception in 1996 to Lucknow appears to be with electoral politics in mind. Karnataka and Bangalore in particular is the hub of India’s aerospace sector with the presense of PSUs like HAL and ISRO. There are a large number of SMEs located here that contribute to it. Aerospace majors like Boeing, Airbus have their engineering centres in Bangalore, where they are also developing their offsets partners. Devanahalli which is not too far from Yelahanka AFS where the Aero India has been held till now has an Aerospace SEZ. So the decision to shift Aero India makes no sense as far developing aerospace sector in India is concerned.”
Plane-spotters and aviation aficionados who flock to Bengaluru every two years for the Aero India show in what is springtime, are now wondering if they’ll get to see any aircraft at all. Aviation photographer Vishal Jolapara tweets, “What would the visibility be like around November? It’s usually poor in winter and if so you’ll just about see the two or three aircraft take off in so-so visibility, and then we just hear them do their thing out of view?”
Trade journals that plan budgets and reportage around international shows are also balking at the decision. The editor of a defence trade magazine in India told Livefist, “International exhibitors will not have a large presence I’m sure as they apply for export licenses for equipment and that takes three months. This is another fiasco. And Lucknow has pretty poor infrastructure.”
Conversations with a variety of vendors and exhibitors threw up the following common points:
- BUDGETS: Supporting two major Indian shows in a single year (DefExpo was in April) at a time when the cost of square footage in Indian shows is more expensive than even Paris is a major upset.
- SHORT NOTICE: Availability of exhibits, executives, and even subject matter experts when internationally calendars are locked in much in advance, which throws up the possibility that the quality of Aero India may take a hit.
- SHIPPING & CUSTOMS: Going by the planning cycles international vendors follow, hardware would be about to be shipped. This, in some cases, is not just exhibits but all the materials from which a stand is constructed, packed in a container sent by sea. With barely three months to go, there’s a proper scare.
- LOGISTICS: Hotels and transport will also have been finalised by this time, and there are concerns that the Lucknow area doesn’t currently have the capacity for the surge that arrives with Aero India.