Airframers’ India commitment doesn’t yet extend to PaxEx

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BANGALORE: Airbus and Boeing are eager to boost business with Indian aerospace manufacturers, but despite constraints in the interiors supply chain neither of them envisage adding India-made seats to their catalogues in the near-term.

In order to crack this nut, any prospective seat suppliers in India would need to embrace a mindset for perfection.

“It is a competitive business that requires high quality and reliability,” Boeing senior VP Asia-Pacific Dinesh Keskar explained to RGN this week at Aero India 2015, the biannual air show in Bangalore.

Yet, as demand for aircraft grows in Asia-Pacific – the region’s airlines are expected to lead in world traffic by 2031, and the fleet will triple to about 13,500 aircraft – new opportunities could open up for small- and medium-sized manufacturers with a fastidious nature. Boeing has already been working with AVIC, as the Chinese manufacturer expands its capabilities to include aircraft interiors.

“There is a stress particularly in the area of seats,” admits Keskar, and even well-established seat suppliers must remain on their toes and be ready for increased aircraft production rates. “Seat manufacturers with a bigger footprint like Zodiac need to watch they can handle that,” notes the Boeing executive. Delivery of American Airlines’ initial Boeing 787s was recently postponed after its customized premium seats arrived late from Zodiac, which suffered a strike at its US plant last year.

While Indian companies have not made a material impact in interiors for Airbus and Boeing aircraft, they have increased their footprint in the aerospace supply chain. Airbus’ industrial cooperation with India began in the 1980s when an agreement was reached with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to manufacture forward passenger doors for the A320 aircraft. HAL now produces half of all A320 forward passenger doors, and assembles flap-track beams for Airbus supplier Spirit Aero Systems. HAL also supplies composite flaperons for Boeing’s 777 series aircraft.

Additionally, India’s Tata Advanced Systems has manufactured Sikorsky’s S-92 cabins for a number of years. And UTC Aerospace Systems recently announced that the US FAA has officially approved a product manufactured by its affiliate entity in Bengaluru, India. The four-person life raft for business and general aviation supports the “Make in India” initiative in the aerospace sector, says UTC.

Meanwhile, on the eve of the Aero India air show, Airbus formalized a contract with Indian private sector company, Dynamatic Technologies, making it a tier one, sole source supplier of flap track beams for A330 widebodies.

“Through these partnerships, we can proudly claim that there’s a bit of ‘Made in India’ in all our aircraft programs,” says Airbus India managing director Srinivasan Dwarakanath, acknowledging an area that has not shown germination is airline seats.

But, he adds, cost-conscious airlines in the region are pushing innovation in economy class seats, and asking the questions, “Do you need reclining seats or not? If you can reduce thickness of seats by 4.5-inches (with new materials) you could increase legroom.” And there is less demand from these carriers for embedded IFE here, suggests Dwarakanath.

Boeing’s Keslar agrees, noting that wireless IFE systems that are “comparatively maintenance free” are being embraced in the region.

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