COVID Dampener for Aero India, Several Foreign Players to Give the Event a Miss

(Representational image) A navy aircraft during the 2019 edition of the Aero India at Yelahanka in Bengaluru | PTI file

New Delhi: Wary of the Covid-19 pandemic, the global defense industry has responded in a lukewarm manner to next month’s Aero India, the country’s biennial air show, with even top executives of registered exhibitors expected to stay away while key players such as the Swedish firm, Saab, have decided to give it a miss.

The Aero India website shows only 75 foreign companies have booked their spots for the event, which is to be held between 3-5 February at the Air Force Station, Yelahanka, Bangalore. This is much less than the over 200 foreign players who were present in the 2019 edition of the event.

The 75 foreign bookings include seven by the US-based Lockheed Martin and its associate firms, even as many foreign players, including some of the Russians, have still to make up their mind on whether to come or not.

Among the Indian entities, there are a total of 457 bookings. This includes about 61 by the Directorate General of Quality Assurance and its associated concerns, 21 by state-owned Bharat Electronics Limited and its subsidiaries, besides several by DRDO labs and other state-owned enterprises.

Industry sources said that even though several foreign companies are registered, many would only be represented by their top management in India.

“Covid is a serious concern. We had thought the Aero India will be postponed to May or something,” a senior executive of a participating foreign firm said. “In these troubled times, some will stay away and some will have a reduced presence to at least ensure that the government does not get upset.”

As part of the Covid-19 precautions, the show will also just be a business-focused event with no public days unlike in normal times.

Swedish Firm SAAB To Stay Away

SAAB, which is eyeing the 114 fighter plane contract of the Indian Air Force, in a statement said that while Aero India is one of the most important events for the company, it was going to give this edition a miss.

“Due to the current situation and the travel advisories in different countries for the Covid pandemic, Saab will not be participating in the Aero India 2021 exhibition,” it said. Industry sources also said that instead of bringing actual systems and platforms to the Aero India, the focus will be on models.

Besides the worry of catching Covid, the sources said that the quarantine process is another major factor in the lukewarm response.

According to the guidelines for Aero India, a Covid test is mandatory for those staying in Karnataka for over 48 hours. Exemption from Covid test and quarantine is applicable for those on a 48-hour stay or those with a negative RT-PCR test report (test conducted 96 hours before departure).

Testing and quarantine guidelines for international delegates will, however, be in line with the Karnataka government guidelines. Karnataka mandates that all those coming in from abroad have to self-quarantine for seven days.