Mahindra Aerospace is the first private company to step up to the country's growing demands for manufacturing aircrafts and aero structure parts. Having recently bagged a multi-million dollar deal with Airbus, the company has now set sights on manufacturing state of the art helicopters for the armed forces. Here's what the man spearheading the organization has to say:
To start with, could you tell us about the birth of Mahindra Aerospace?
Our aerospace journey started a couple of years ago when we acquired a company called Plexion Technologies in Bangalore, which had an existing relationship with NAL to build a 5-seat aircraft. It also had an aircraft engineering division.
We had to then decide what we do with the 5-seater aircraft. The group took a conscious call that since it’s a commitment with the government of India, and since it’s the first public-private participation, we should stand behind it. However, at the same time, we had India opening up to various opportunities in the defense offset. So we took a steady, strategic decision that this is an area we must focus on.
This would allow us to capture the growing aerospace market in the years to come, and that was the beginning of our aerospace journey. We had to divide our business into two parts – One was the aircraft business, and the second was the aero structures business.
In the aircraft business, we were the first company in India to enter into a public-private partnership. We were also aware of the fact that being the first private company to produce aircrafts in the country, we needed to expand our portfolio to succeed. And since it takes time to develop aircrafts IP, it’s always better to look at acquisition opportunities, so we went around the world and finally picked on a company called GippsAero in Australia. Through the acquisition, we got an IP for a 2-seat agriculture aircraft, an 8-seat, very successful aircraft; and an 18-seater turboprop. We’re now developing a 10-seater, which is in the middle of its first flight tests.
At the same time, in the aero structures space, we were not a company that had produced aircraft parts, so we had to make a beginning. This led us to buy a company called Aerostaff Australia, which used to deal with small aero components, and then expanded that relationship eventually to build a large aero structures facility in Bangalore.
So, from a small startup manufacturing aero components, today we have the capability to build large air structures, aero components and detail parts.
What is the company’s vision for the future?
Our vision is to be a supplier of best quality at best price – What you might call a ‘best value solution’ as far as the aero structures business is concerned. If you see the aircraft business, it relates very well to our automotive business. When we launched automobiles many years back, the advertisements said “The roads will follow.” And in the aircrafts business, we say “The runways will follow.” So, this aircraft is capable of short take-off and landing in very rough environments. We firmly believe this is the need of the hour of developing countries like India, and we see a lot of potential. We definitely want to make a difference in aerospace, the same way we made a difference in the automotive segment.
What is Mahindra’s roadmap for the ‘Make-in-India’ initiative?
I think this particular initiative has given an incentive to larger companies to seriously look at developing themselves in the aerospace domain, particularly in manufacturing, and government support definitely helps a lot. In our case, when you set up a plant in India, and you have an ambition to be the best value service provider, you automatically feed that ambition. Therefore, I think it’s very well aligned.
‘Make-in-India’ has brought additional focus to it. As a group, when we decided on our strategy, we were always prepared that if you are the best value service provider, you will create an opportunity to produce within India.
If you look at Indian aviation industry, there haven’t been any aircraft manufacturers, other than HAL. What do you think is the reason for this?
Manufacturing of aircrafts is not an easy job for an industry to step in. We took the initiative, and we’re now the only private Indian company which is manufacturing aircrafts. HAL has had a historical advantage. It is a long-gestation, high investment business, and you need to have a stronger commitment behind it. We had that commitment, but I can’t answer for other companies. We have a strong ambition to succeed in this business, and the group stands behind it.
In the aero structures side, I’d like to add that what companies like ours recognize more than purely business is that this is a domain which will enhance India’s capability and bring the country on a different platform altogether. For us, it’s not all about manufacturing, we aim to put India altogether in a different space in the universe of aero structures, so we feel very proud of the fact that we’re participating in this business.