You have been at the helm of Boeing India for almost 20 months now. How has been the journey so far?
India is one of the world’s fastest growing aviation and defence markets and Boeing has had a presence in the country for over 75 years now. I have been privileged to be a part of this journey, which has seen several milestones in the last year alone.
The Indian Air Force inducted their first Chinook and Apache helicopters in 2019 and we recently completed all deliveries, 15 Chinooks and 22 Apaches. We also delivered the 11th C-17 Globemaster in 2019. We delivered two technologically advanced 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft to Vistara this year, a first for India. We also modified and delivered the 777-300ER aircraft that will serve as India’s Head of State aircraft. We delivered two 737-800 BCF (Boeing Converted Freighter) in 2019 to SpiceXpress, SpiceJet’s cargo division, which is the first of its type to operate in South Asia.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence signed the contract for the acquisition of six Apaches for the Indian Army. In line with our commitment to bringing the best of Boeing to India and Make in India, the Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited facility has been producing aero-structures for Boeing’s AH-64 Apache helicopter for the US Army and international customers.
Boeing is also providing pilot training for the Indian Air Force fleet of the C-17 aircraft while construction is underway in another facility for training Indian Navy pilots on the P-8I.
Our wholly owned engineering and technology campus with future avionics manufacturing and assembly capability is coming up in Bengaluru. Last year, we marked the 10th anniversary of Boeing Research and Technology in India, which has been leading research and development in aerodynamics, structures, materials, manufacturing, communication networks and artificial intelligence.
We are also working with the Airports Authority of India and airline partners to create a roadmap to modernise and optimise India’s National Airspace System to safely accommodate the growth in traffic.
These are significant milestones and I am honoured to be a part of this journey together with 3,500 of my colleagues who are shaping Boeing’s legacy in India.
Would you say the Covid-19 outbreak has been the toughest leadership challenge you have faced?
COVID-19 has impacted the entire aviation industry. It has changed the way we live and work. In these challenging times, we can draw lessons from previous economic crises. In the past, industries that made the quickest and most sustained recoveries post-economic shocks maintained their core operations through the crisis, focused on employees, customers and supplier relationships, and managed cash well. This has been Boeing’s focus in India and around the world.
Business resilience has become as important as business productivity. We have to redesign our global operations and supply chains to protect against future aftershocks and crises. We expect to see rebalancing and a trend towards increasing diversity in industrial footprints and supplier bases.
We are also focused on working with our supplier base and customers to help them navigate this challenging period. We now have the benefit of what we’ve already been through, and a disciplined approach for how we will manage it going forward.
The Make in India initiative has wider connotations as it basically entails ‘manufacture, design, engineer and research in India’. What is Boeing’s approach in this context?
Boeing has always supported the development of indigenous aerospace and defence capabilities in India and has through the years invested in partnerships with the Indian aerospace ecosystem in skilling, research & technology, and manufacturing. Our growing partnership with India and our expanding supplier base makes it imperative for us to invest in, develop, and nurture talent in the country.
Making in India is core to Boeing’s business strategy. Our sourcing from India stands at close to US$ one billion a year from 225 suppliers who are manufacturing critical systems and components for some of Boeing’s most advanced products. We are working closely with our suppliers in India to support supply chain health, identify new ways to drive innovation, and deliver greater value to our customers. Boeing continues to grow a globally competitive supplier base in India, with strong partnerships that are aligned with the government’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat vision.
Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited (TBAL) in Hyderabad, Boeing’s joint venture with Tata Advanced Systems Limited, is manufacturing Apache fuselages for customers around the globe. TBAL marks a major step towards the co-development of integrated systems in aerospace and defence in India.
Dynamatic Technologies manufactures the ramp and complex aft pylon for the Chinook heavy-lift helicopters and also power and mission cabinets for the P-8 platform. Similarly, Rossell Techsys manufactures wire harness for all major defense platforms and electrical panel for the AH-64 Apache, and the harness for V-22 Osprey. SASMOS HET Technologies manufactures electrical panel assemblies and wire harness for the F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-15 Strike Eagle. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) manufactures F/A-18 gun bay doors. Tata Advanced Systems Ltd manufactures complex crown and tail for Chinooks. These are just a few examples of the work done by our Indian suppliers.
We are also working with Indian companies to develop capabilities in the country so they can perform maintenance locally, including heavy checks and supply of indigenous equipment. Air Works India Pvt. Ltd., in partnership with Boeing, successfully completed the first heavy maintenance check for the first P-8I in 2019. Further capability development planning is in the works to support the growing P-8I fleet, improving the local aviation ecosystem while ensuring quicker turnaround for the Indian Navy.
Moreover, we’re accelerating our skill development and engineering involvement in India. Through our skilling and up-skilling initiatives, we are training hundreds of pilots, aircraft maintenance engineers, technicians and frontline factory workers across India with our industry partners like Tata, Rossell Techsys, Jaivel and Lakshmi Machine Works.
The Boeing India Engineering & Technology Center (BIETC), with a strong presence in Bengaluru and Chennai, is leveraging a talented pool of employees to contribute to global aerospace and defence growth. Our engineers in India undertake high-quality, advanced aerospace work that supports areas as diverse as test and evaluation; development of advanced, environmentally friendly coatings; data analytics for next-generation airplane health management; innovation on Internet of Things and Digital Transformation; and development of software tools that enable airlines to improve their operations and work with airports to enable de-congestion and navigation at reduced costs.
Boeing continues to remain committed to creating the right conditions for a strong and indigenous aviation ecosystem in India.
The Indian aerospace manufacturing ecosystem – although at a relatively nascent stage – has started showing a lot of maturity in the last few years. How would you analyse the industry from a global OEM perspective?
Boeing has been steadily increasing its sourcing from India for its global manufacturing and supply chain. Our investments in India are bolstering India’s manufacturing sector, creating expertise in advanced manufacturing processes, delivering to an international supply chain network that adheres to global standards of production. We’ve quadrupled our sourcing from India that stands at close to USD 1 billion a year from 225 suppliers who are today manufacturing critical systems and components for some of Boeing’s most advanced products. As I mentioned earlier, we have also been driving several skilling initiatives for Indian MSMEs. This integration helps suppliers improve their capabilities and move up the value chain, which benefits everyone. We are constantly looking at doing more here, with partners who have, or can build capability to deliver world-class quality, while maintaining productivity.
A key area of concern in India is the gap between industry and academia, which can be bridged with meaningful partnerships between the two. What is Boeing doing in this regard?
Boeing’s industrial and academic partnerships are spurring entrepreneurship and innovation in India’s aerospace industry. We have invested in Indian aerospace startups working on future aerospace technology and today marks 13 years of advanced research and technology partnerships in India with National Aerospace Laboratories and leading research universities like the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institute of Science. Our investments have spurred technology entrepreneurship, patents and research papers in aerospace manufacturing and wireless networks.
We work with partners such as Air India and Tata; Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) like Rossell Techsys and SASMOS, to help meet India’s skilling and training requirements for a fast growing sector. We collaborate with our partners to impart training to India’s aerospace labor force on frontline techniques of aerospace manufacturing and help prepare the next generation of pilots and aircraft maintainers to enter the aviation industry.
We continue to invest in specialised training programs that enhance employability and bridge the skills gap in the aerospace sector. We have partnered with Lakshmi Machine Works to develop a training program to prepare a future-ready workforce in aerospace manufacturing. The program trains frontline workers on the technical skills required to work in the aerospace tool manufacturing sector.
Boeing’s Accelerated Apprenticeship Program aircraft maintenance engineers (AME) in partnership with Air India Engineering Services Ltd and the Ministry of Civil Aviation, aims to improve the AME’s employability through training and hands-on experience with actual aircraft. With the Boeing University Innovation Leadership Development (BUILD) program, we are creating a platform for students and entrepreneurs to not only benefit from our vast experience and partner networks, but also develop their ideas into innovations.
Partnerships like these that straddle the world of academia and industry can help develop an ecosystem that encourages innovation and skill training for the aerospace sector in India.
Boeing obviously has a lot at stake with the Indian civil aviation sector too. How do you see that business panning out on this front in the next two years?
Commercial aviation is facing historic challenges this year, significantly affecting near- and medium-term demand for airplanes and services, yet history has also proven air travel to be resilient time and again.
The 2020 Boeing Market Outlook (BMO) projects that the commercial aviation and services markets will continue to face significant challenges due to the pandemic. While near-term commercial services demand is lower, the BMO forecasts a $3 trillion market opportunity for commercial and government services through 2029, with digital solutions emerging as a critical enabler as customers focus on leaner operations to adjust to future market demand.
Operators are assessing business needs, passenger demand, and their fleets. In many instances, operators are taking advantage of opportunities to grow cargo capabilities to meet demand, by utilising dedicated cargo aircraft and at times repurposing passenger aircraft to carry more goods.
We do anticipate it will take several years for travel to return to 2019 levels and a few years beyond that to return to long-term trend growth. Yet the fundamentals that have driven air travel for the past five decades remain intact. We’ve always seen the industry innovate, respond, and grow over time because of its close connection to the global economy – and of course, the desire of people everywhere to fly, when they have the chance.
India is projected to spearhead economic growth in the region over the next 20 years, a fact that will be key to growing air travel. We have already seen a decade of remarkable passenger growth and the dominance of low-cost carriers in the Indian market, and we expect this to continue.
The Indian Government has also opened up the Indian space sector to private players. Will Boeing be exploring opportunities in this segment as well?
India’s recent strides in space exploration and ambitions of human space flights before August 2022 are testimony to the spirit of innovation in the country. We are inspired by what India has achieved and its aspirations for the future. We look forward to partnering with ISRO in their endeavours.
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