Time for Action

Safran Helicopter Engines and HAL’s joint venture Helicopter Engines MRO Pvt Ltd set to take-off

A FORCE Report

New Delhi: In a little over a year, the Safran Helicopter Engines (formerly Turbomeca) and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) joint venture, christened Helicopter Engines MRO Pvt Ltd is ready to roll. The Chief Executive Officer of Safran Helicopter Engines Bruno Even was in India in early February to oversee the commencement of the civil works for the Helicopter Engine MRO in Goa. The 50:50 JV, aimed at maintaining the helicopter engines operational in India, was signed in October 2016.

CEO, Safran Helicopter Engines, Bruno Even (right) with CEO, Safran India, Stephen Lauret

While the MRO would be located in Goa, it will qualify three maintenance centres in Bengaluru, Pathankot and Misamari for level 3 maintenance of the helicopters. According to the current estimates, the field maintenance centres will become operational this year itself. The Goa facility will be ready by 2019 and will be qualified to carry out complete maintenance, repair and overhaul of TM333 engines fitted on older Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) Dhruv and Cheetal helicopters and Shakti engines fitted on ALH Dhruv and Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) as well as the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH).

With this, Even expects the availability of the helicopters to improve. “The average downtime for a Safran engine is 60 days,” he said in an interaction with the media on February 8, expressing hope that the MRO would further cement the long association the company has with India. “Some part of Safran is present on 70 per cent of all airborne platforms in India,” he pointed out.

Safran Helicopter Engines’ association with India started in 1962 with the agreement with HAL on the engines for the Alouette and the Lama helicopters. Since then the relationship has graduated from seller-buyer to that of a partnership that has seen a total of 1,000 helicopter engines operating in India.

In 2003, TM333 engine was selected for HAL’s ALH Dhruv. Given the growing partnership, Safran established Turbomeca India to oversee the cooperation with HAL. Though first envisaged in 1999, HAL finally started to license-produce Shakti engines, based on Ardiden 1 engines in 2007. So far 250 Shakti engines have been produced by HAL, which now does nearly 70 per cent of the work indigenously. Shakti engine has now been standardised for all HAL helicopters, including the under-development LUH which will have a variation of the same called Ardiden 1U.

Interestingly, Safran engines are also present on the two upcoming programmes. On Indian Air Force’s fighter aircraft Rafale, Safran’s contribution is one-third by value, comprising engine, landing gear, wiring and inertial navigation system among other things. And Ka-226T helicopter, for which India is likely to sign the contract anytime soon, is powered by Safran’s Arrius 2GI engine.

Given West’ sanctions against Russia, how will this programme unfold once the contract is signed? Will Safran supply engines to India or directly to Russian Helicopters?

“We have a very old association with Russian Helicopters,” said Even. “When required, we will supply the engines to them.” Won’t sanctions come in the way? “Not likely,” he said. “Ka-226T is a civil platform.”

To coincide with Even’s visit, Safran had organised an Operator’s Symposium for an interface between the user and the supplier. Safran is one of the biggest manufacturers of Helicopter Engines, with one out of three engines sold worldwide being rolled from its facilities. According to the company presentation, ‘a Safran-powered helicopter takes off every nine seconds, somewhere in the world.’ In India, Safran hopes to better that record with the projected demand of 1,000 helicopters in both civil and military domains in the next 10 years. Clearly, the future holds a lot of promise.