NEW DELHI: The tussle between Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh over the shifting of Aero India has immense economic as well as political implications. Started in 1996, the biennial air show in Bengaluru has become the largest such event in Asia. More than 750 global and Indian aerospace and allied majors participated in 2017, while 109 nations sent ministerial/defence heads/secretary-level delegations. And it drew more than 150,000 business visitors and over 300,000 general visitors.
The hospitality industry in Bengaluru reported a turnover of over Rs 500 crore. Hotels, guest houses and resorts are booked well in advance, and it is impossible to get even a five-star room on demand even with the marked up rates. The car hire industry too makes a killing. Similarly, upmarket eateries and local tourist spots see a major spike in earnings.
Which is why, there is immense heartburn over reports that the Central government proposes to shift Aero India from Bengaluru’s Yelahanka Air Force Station to AFS Bakshi Ki Talab in Lucknow. Then of course there are the strategic, logistical and political angles to consider. Speculation that the next air show, scheduled for January February 2019, might be brought forward to October-November 2018 has added to the concerns, particularly among international exhibitors, who plan months in advance.
“It’s a death knell for Aero India. It’s a disaster in the making,” says Air Marshal (Retd) BK Pandey. “When I heard about this shift, my immediate question was, is there a new defence minister from Uttar Pradesh being appointed?” says Pandey, who retired as AOC-in-C. Training Command.
“Because when Manohar Parrikar became defence minister he moved DefExpo to Goa, and he also wanted to move Aero India. Then when Nirmala Sitharaman became defence minister she took DefExpo to Tamil Nadu. This is a politically driven exercise to prop up (Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister) Adityanath, with the forthcoming elections in mind, and also to snub (Karnataka Chief Minister) Kumaraswamy. But in all this you are damaging national interest. It should have been a professional, not a political decision.” he said.
According to him, “Aero India was started in Bangalore because it is the hub of the Indian aerospace industry. This kind of air show depends heavily on the aerospace industry, and not on farmlands where they are planning to make some defence industry corridor. That will take 20 years. You can’t put an airfield in the middle of rice fields and say we are going to have a defence industry corridor here and thus the aeroshow will succeed,” he says.
Also, “Lucknow has an international airport status, but I doubt it really has great international connections. People coming from all over the world will first have to either come to Delhi or Mumbai and then catch a flight to Lucknow, which is obviously inconvenient. “
While several defence ministry and Air Force officials concurred, one official, however, went against the grain. “People are always resistant to change,” he said, requesting that he not be named. “But once a decision is taken, things will fall into place quickly enough,” he said.