Tata-Sikorsky to start manufacturing

Sept. 2, 2010 at 8:56 AM
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NEW DELHI, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- The Tata-Sikorsky joint venture for manufacturing aerospace components and systems in India will start production in November, 14 months after their agreement was signed.

The joint venture is based on the manufacture of cabins for Sikorsky's S-92 helicopter. Production will be at the new facility in the Aerospace Park on the outskirts of Hyderabad, in Andhra Pradesh state.

It was in June 2009 that the Indian conglomerate Tata joined forces with Sikorsky as a way into India's lucrative aerospace industry. Tata Advanced Systems, a subsidiary of the holding firm Tata Sons, is leading the joint venture.

At the time of the joint venture signing in 2009, Jeffrey Pino, president of Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., said they were "proud to have the highly admired Tata Group join our global supply chain" and "India's aerospace market is poised for significant growth."

Davinder Kumar, chief executive of Tata Advanced Systems, said it was "a significant step forward in Tata Advanced Systems' plans to establish a meaningful presence in the manufacture of aero-structures."

Sikorsky's S-92 helicopter is operated worldwide in search-and-rescue, VIP transport and offshore transport roles.

Start of production in Hyderabad will increase Tata's direct competition with state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics, the only other Indian company with major facilities to produce aircraft and components as an original equipment manufacturer.

The start of production also could give Sikorsky some much needed good will and good press within India because of an ongoing controversy over six of its helicopters that India picked up as part of a major naval deal from the U.S. military.

The Sikorsky UH-3H Sea King helicopters were on board the USS Trenton, now renamed the INS Jalashva and the Indian navy's second largest ship after the aircraft carrier Viraat.

The Trenton's keel was laid down at Seattle in 1966 by Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction. It was sold under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program in August 2005 and the deal was finalized in July 2006.

But since commissioning the ship in early 2007, the Indian navy has deemed the helicopters obsolete and in poor condition.

As well, the government's national spending watchdog the Comptroller and Auditor General roundly criticized the quality of the aircraft. The CAG said the $39 million helicopters are lacking basic equipment, including weather and surface surveillance radar.

The CAG said the 1960s vintage aircraft, decommissioned by the U.S. Navy in 2005, were "life-expired and had defects that could compromise their operational effectiveness." The Indian defense ministry was deemed lax for not securing any "guarantee for the replacement of defective rotables due to obsolescence."

But a deal appears to have been hammered out late last month with Sikorsky, India's financial press reported.

"We have sent an unsolicited letter to the Indian navy offering to provide whatever support they want," said AJS Walia, Sikorsky's managing director for India and South Asia.

"We have also offered to supply spares, which will finish by 2010. These helicopters came through the government-to-government route. It was not a commercial deal. And what we are offering now will be a commercial deal between us and the Indian navy," Walia said.

In July Sikorsky Aerospace Services announced the signing of an agreement with Deccan Charters of Bangalore, India, whereby its Mumbai facility will be a customer service center to support the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter.

The Mumbai center will be a key support facility for the future expansion of Sikorsky's S-76 commercial aircraft fleet in India, a statement by Sikorsky said.

Deccan Charters, formerly Deccan Aviation, offers services ranging from corporate charters to emergency medical services, offshore charters, heli-tourism and aircraft management. It maintains more than 50 aircraft, from helicopters to turboprops and business jets.

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