India Showcases Its Air Defence Prowess at Aero India 2019; around 50 pacts signed
Curtains have been drawn for the biennial Aero India 2019 air show after a spectacular flying display by fighters, helicopters and jet trainers delighted about a lakh visitors at the IAF Yelahanka base on February 24. Asia`s premier air show was, however, subdued this time, marred as it was by two tragedies. On February 23, a massive fire in the parking lot gutted about 300 cars.
The biennial edition of International Aerospace and Defence Exhibition – Aero India 2019 was inaugurated by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the presence of Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy.
The event began on an ominous note. Ahead of the event on February 19, an IAF pilot, Sahil Gandhi died after two aerobatic Surya Kiran Hawk jets collided midair and crashed near the air base while rehearsing for the flying display. Though the Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT) did not participate in the flying display on the first three days of the show in the wake of the tragedy, on February 23 seven of its Hawk aircraft roared in the blue sky and treated the visitors to daredevilry and dazzling formations. They participated on February 24 too, much to the delight of the crowds.
“Surya Kirans received thunderous applause from the public. We are proud of their return,” said Bengaluru IAF Training Command Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief R.K. Bhadauria. Besides French fighter Rafale, F-16 of the US-based Lockheed Martin, homegrown Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas and IAF`s Sukhoi-30, Jaguar and transport aircraft were among the 61 aircraft that participated in the static and flying display at the show.
“An estimated 4 lakh people visited the air show, with 3 lakh footfall on the first four days since the first day of the show,” Defence Production Joint Secretary Amit Sahai said at the valedictory function on the fifth and concluding day. However, the footfall was down 25 per cent compared with the previous edition of Aero India in February 2017, when 5.4 lakh guests visited the air show.
Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala, state Chief Secretary T.M. Vijay Bhaskar, state-run aerospace major HAL Chairman and Managing Director R. Madhavan also attended the valedictory function. “This Aero India was special being a runway to new opportunities, as the tagline said. This edition grew over the years and had a special theme each day this year,” Bhadauria said at the finale.
As many as 600 Indian and 200 foreign companies participated in the expo and showcased technologies and products. Global aerospace majors flew in their aircraft for static and flying display on the tarmac facing the runway, a statement from the Ministry of Defence said.
“In all, 54 countries took part in the trade expo, 44 foreign delegations were present for the inaugural event on February 20. About 500 B2B meetings were held and 50 agreements signed between the public and the private firms at the expo,” Sahai said.
Havoc on the 3rd Day – Fire at the Parking Lot
More than 300 cars were gutted in a huge fire that broke out on the morning of February 23 in the visitors’ parking area near Gate No. 5 of the Yelahanka Air Force Station, the venue of Aero India show in Bengaluru. No casualties or injuries were reported.
Though the cause of the fire was not immediately known, two possible triggers are being probed – an unextinguished cigarette butt or a short circuit in one of the cars. Officials and bystanders said the second car which caught fire was powered by CNG and it exploded. While the fire department said 300 cars were burnt or damaged, show organizers put the number at 150.
The fire which broke out around 11.55 am led to panic and confusion, with several visitors frantically looking for their vehicles. “Some drivers initially tried breaking the windows and moving the cars by undoing the hand brakes. About 10-12 cars were saved but the pace at which the fire spread made it impossible for the blaze to be stopped immediately,” a CISF personnel from the intelligence team said.
Minutes after the fire broke out, black smoke enveloped a portion of the Air Force station on the far right. Curious visitors at the main venue – far away from the blaze – suspected a plane crash even as officials allayed their fears. It became immediately clear that dry grass at the parking lot had caught fire, which was spreading. “If the cars didn’t catch fire, the situation could have been under control,” an official said.
Late evening, IAF spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee said the show would be hosted as per schedule on February 24.
Rafale jets steal the show at Aero India 2019
Political row hit Rafale jet was the cynosure of all eyes as the breathtaking display of manoeuvres by military aircraft and the aerobatic team cast a spell at Aero India.
The city’s skies dazzled with somersaults and stunts by the metal birds, which also paid tributes to the Surya Kiran aircraft pilot killed in a mishap during rehearsal. The might of the Rafale jet was in full flow as it roared into the skies at the Yelahanka air base, the venue for the event, giving a dazzling display with breathtaking manoeuvres.
The Rafale aircraft flew at low speed to pay tribute to Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi who died in a mid-air collision between two aircraft of IAF’s aerobatics team ‘Surya Kiran” during rehearsal.
Three Rafale jets have landed in Bengaluru for Aero India- two for flying and one on static display. Rafale has been participating in Aero India shows since 2011. India has signed an Inter-Government Agreement with France to purchase 36 Rafales– to form two squadrons.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been carrying on a sustained campaign against the Modi government on Rafale, accusing it of favouring Anil Ambani’s firm as an offset partner and saying it was crony capitalism.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report tabled in Parliament recently revealed that the Rafale deal negotiated by the NDA government to procure 36 fighter jets was 2.86 percent cheaper than the UPA’s 2007 offer.
The Jaguar, Tejas and Sukhoi 30 aircraft flew in the ‘missing man’ (aerial salute) formation in honour of Gandhi. Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat, Air Force Chief BS Dhanoa and Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba were also present.
There was no announcement made on the next year’s edition with regards to date or venue. Although, there is a high possibility the event will be held in Bengaluru again.