Every two years, for four days, officials from almost every major Western aerospace firm make the long and dusty 90min journey from the centre of Bangalore to Yelahanka airport for India's biggest aerospace show. Most attend Aero India hoping to get a slice of the country's highly lucrative defence market, valued at $50 billion over the next five years.
Publicly, they will be all smiles as senior government and military officials walk around with lackeys in tow. They will politely push their fighters, helicopters and transport aircraft. Privately, they will moan to each other and journalists about the time it takes India to make up its mind. But they have no choice but to wait.
Falling defence budgets from Washington to London and Berlin are forcing them to seek new markets. India is now potentially the biggest outside the USA. India's famously slow decision-making process has improved dramatically: recent deals for the Lockheed Martin C-130J, Boeing P-8I Poseidon and C-17 were concluded in a handful of years. Last year, the country went ahead and ordered additional BAE Hawk trainers and Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters - decisions that, in the past, would have taken years.
However, the Indians still take their time over certain decisions. The long, arduous process of the medium multi-role combat aircraft competition - in which India will buy 126 fighters worth at least $10 billion - is a great example. Sure, it has to get this one absolutely right for the air force - national security is at stake. But New Delhi's slow-moving bureaucrats seem to be taking even more time than needed to pore over the reams of documents and ask for more information where they see fit. India knows that it frustrates potential suppliers, but as one senior government official puts it: "Let them wait. We will decide when we are ready. If they don't like it, they can walk away. But they won't. They need us more than we need them."
So, every two years, the ritual repeats. Reality is a great leveller: companies that could have dictated terms to India only 10 years ago now have to listen to New Delhi, smile politely, grit their teeth and bear with it. The Indian decision-making process may be faster nowadays, giving hope to many of those companies that will be at the show this year, but it could take a few more Aero Indias before all of the tenders being contested even in this edition get resolved. The wait for many of those stuck in traffic on the busy road to Yelahanka might just be even longer than they think.
Source: Flight International