Union minister Ananth Kumar, who represents Bengaluru South in Parliament, dismissed talks about the venue shift as rumour, even as the Centre has not been explicit yet in communicating which of the two cities will hold the show.
Bengaluru, for nearly two decades, has been home to the aero show where global aerospace and defence manufacturers display their latest wares such as fighter aircraft, cargo planes and defence equipment and look to sell to India’s defence and paramilitary forces.
Aero India has also been a platform for India to showcase the locally developed Tejas light combat aircraft and the Advanced Light Helicopter to the world.
“Aero India was started in Bengaluru because the city was a hub of the Indian aerospace industry,” said Air Marshal BK Pandey, who retired as the head of the IAF’s training command in Bengaluru. The show, which started as a privately organised event — Avia India in 1993, at the Yelahanka Airbase — was soon taken over by the Ministry of Defence, as it looked to make the event as popular as those in Dubai, Farnborough and Paris.
Since 1996, it has been a biennial event, attracting global firms such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Rafale and Russia’s JSC Sukhoi to be regular participants. The defence ministry also looked at the evolving aerospace industry — the development of ALH by public sector Hindustan Aeronautics and Tejas by the Aeronautical Development Agency — in Bengaluru to base the event. The city is also home to the country’s space programme.
At that time, Bengaluru had not seen the outsourcing boom that has led it to the metropolis of today. The air show has also had spinoff benefits. A majority of the global aerospace firms including aircraft makers Boeing and Airbus and engine manufacturers Rolls-Royce, Honeywell and General Electric have their research and development facilities in Bengaluru. The city has also seen several space startups emerge over the last few years.
“The government may now have its own reason to consider a change: it takes long hours to move from the city to the Yelahanka air force station; and civilian air traffic is increasing year after year. The international airport operations are in conflict with the Yelahanaka air force station operations. And, a second runway is also coming up (at the civilian airport). Therefore, there may be a case to consider an alternative location,” said Pandey. “But, the alternative location must be suitable for holding an event of this scale. You cannot relocate to another place driven by political interest.”
An executive of a global aerospace firm said companies plan at least a year in advance to participate in an air show in a city. “You can’t shift to a new city just six months before the show. The logistics involved is huge,” said the executive, who did not want to be named.
Ajay A Prabhu, COO of Quest Global Engineering Services, which works with global engine makers, said Bengaluru is the aerospace hub and he bats for the city to continue hosting the event.