May 28, 2012
: The monumental fourth-generation MMRCA fighter deal may still be a while away, but its a season of cheer for the Indian Air Force. On May 24, after more than one scare of an abort, the government signed on the dotted line for 75 PC-7 MkII turboprop trainer aircraft from Swiss firm Pilatus—the company's single largest contract ever. In a deal worth $523-million, the 75 aircraft will all be manufactured in Switzerland, with a 30 per cent offset commitment to Indian industry. While the IAF expects initial deliveries to begin no later than August 2013, Pilatus has announced that it will begin deliveries well ahead of schedule, by early next calendar year. The contract also includes an integrated ground based training system and a comprehensive logistics support package. India has worked in an options clause allowing it purchase 30 more PC-7 MkII aircraft within three years under identical techno-commercial terms. The Swiss firm says it is confident that options will be exercised by the IAF. This contract extends the fleet of Pilatus turboprop trainers to more than 900 aircraft operating worldwide, according to the firm.
The IAF's fleet of HAL-built HPT-32 Deepak trainers have been grounded since July 2009 following a fatal crash—the grounding was forced by frequent engine cuts and dangerous recovery qualities during ab initio training. A separate effort is on to certify the HPT-32 with an American ballistic recovery system. Since the grounding, the IAF has been forced to put trainee pilots directly onto intermediate or Stage-2 training on ageing HJT-16 Kiran Mk-I and MkII jets. The signing of the basic trainer deal, an overwhelming priority for IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, is therefore a cause for celebration. The fact that India, which boasts of a maturing aerospace industry, is still compelled to import simple platforms like basic trainers, is of course a separate issue altogether. HAL is currently developing the HTT-40, a follow-on to the HPT-32, and is in the process of creating a mock-up. The IAF hopes to begin training pilots on the new Pilatus aircraft by the end of 2013.
"The Indian Air Force joins more than 30 other countries to modernise its training pipeline with the most modern, capable and cost effective system for basic flying training on the market today. The decision to select the PC-7 MkII training system was made after a thorough evaluation by the Indian Air Force, which looked at all available options. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd views this contract for the Indian Air Force as a major success and believes it will encourage other forces to take a close look at our pilot training solution," says Oscar J. Schwenk, CEO of Pilatus Aircraft.
The IAF has sought to ensure that maintenance is not a problem. Pilatus has revealed that coupled with this award will be the establishment of in-country depot level maintenance capabilities, which includes the required transfer of technology to HAL, enabling in-country maintenance of the platform throughout its service life of over 30 years.
The Pilatus CEO adds, "Pilatus has also entered into a separate offset contract with the Government of India for 30 per cent of the value of this contract and we view this as a major opportunity. Pilatus has significant confidence in the Indian defence market with its highly skilled workforce and it is our intention to leverage the offset opportunity to establish manufacturing capability for the region in support of our business plans for India. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd is committed to serving the Indian Air Force with its world renowned dedication to Swiss precision and quality, through delivering and supporting the most advanced basic flight training turboprop trainer aircraft in the world – the Pilatus PC-7 MkII."
The PC-7 beat out stiff competition from the American Hawker-Beechcraft T-7C Texan-II and Korea Aerospace KT-1. The latter has in fact protested the emergence of Pilatus as lowest bidder, submitting that the Swiss firm had not supplied full facts in its commercial package. However, the government announced that it found KAI's protest "devoid of merit" before progressing the deal with Pilatus.