France's Airbus aims to help helicopter travel take off in India

By Pratap Chakravarty - RFI
FEB 3, 2024 LISTEN

India's Tata business group and France's Airbus have signed a deal to make civilian helicopters, hoping to boost an overlooked sector of the vast Indian air travel market. It's the latest in a line-up of promising aviation collaborations between the two countries. 

The two groups inked the deal during French President Emmanuel Macron's recent trip to Delhi, with promises for a fully fledged assembly line in India by 2026. 

The project comes as part of Delhi's long-running Make In India campaign. The drive is one of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's flagship programmes to reduce dependence on imports by boosting domestic manufacturing, in turn creating 100 million jobs.

In a statement, Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury said: "A 'Made-in-India' civil helicopter will not only be a symbol of the confident new India but will also unlock the true potential of the helicopter market in the country." 

Dated aircraft

The French company – which has already delivered its H125 helicopter to more than 2,500 operators across 133 countries – says the project will “catalyse” the Indian market, currently served by dated machines.

With only about 300 civilian helicopters in use, India last year reduced airfares by 25 percent in a bid to make rotorcraft travel more affordable.

While the country is emerging as one of the world's largest aviation markets​​, helicopter operations are still strictly policed. There are only 46 state-approved routes despite promises to liberalise flight policies. 

Experts say that the campaign to boost passenger flight has also struggled in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Russia-Ukraine conflict and spreading hostilities between Hamas and Israel. 

As well as transporting travellers and goods, Airbus says its six-passenger helicopters will also be used in India for “emergency medical services, disaster management, law enforcement, tourism and aerial work missions”.

Widening ties

The move is the latest big-ticket project for Tata since June, when it took control of Air India and placed orders for 250 Airbus aircraft and 220 new Boeing planes worth 65 billion euros.

It marks the second time the French aviation giant has been hired to set up an India-based assembly line, following an earlier €2.46 billion deal with Tata to build Airbus C295 military transport aircraft for the Indian Air Force. 

French engine maker Safran has also said it is willing to transfer technology to build fighter jet engines in the country. 

France and India want to seek out opportunities for industrial partnerships that prioritise "co-designing, co-development and co-production of military hardware", according to Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra.

The resulting defence supply chains could also contribute to security collaborations with other countries, he added.

Space, satellite launches, clean energy research, healthcare and public administration are among the other areas of cooperation agreed with France, Kwatra said.

India and France have also decided to cooperate in the Indian Ocean, building on joint surveillance missions launched from the French island territory of Réunion in 2020 and 2022.