Aero India to stay in Bengaluru; Lucknow's 'bid' fails to take off

(File) An SU-30MKI fighter of the Indian Air Force flies during the 2017 Aero India show | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

Putting an end to months of speculation, the Narendra Modi government has decided against moving Aero India—Asia's largest military aviation exhibition—from Bengaluru, where it has been organised for the last 22 years.

"The government has decided to hold Aero India 2019 in Bengaluru from February 20-24, 2019," said a statement issued by the ministry of defence early on Saturday. The five-day event will combine a major trade exhibition for the aerospace and defence industries with public air shows.

"Besides global leaders and big investors in the aerospace industry, the show will also see participation by think tanks from across the world. It will provide a unique opportunity for exchange of information, ideas and new developments in the aviation industry," the defence ministry said. Besides giving a fillip to the domestic aviation industry, it would further the cause of Make in India, the defence ministry said.

"The Department of Defence Production is committed to making this a successful and result-oriented show," the statement added.

After organising DefExpo in Chennai for the first time this year, several states had approached the ministry to host the Aero India air show, including Uttar Pradesh. During the inauguration of the first defence industrial corridor in Aligarh last month, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had publicly asked Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to shift Aero India to Lucknow.

Keeping an eye on the 2019 general elections, the Modi government was also considering Uttar Pradesh as its first choice to organise the mega event. For that purpose, a team of Indian Air Force officials had visited the Bakshi Ka Talab airbase in Lucknow to evaluate infrastructure. Bakshi Ka Talab, situated on the outskirts of Lucknow, falls under the Central Air Command of the Indian Air Force.

It is believed that the IAF had some reservations over organising Aero India at Bakshi Ka Talab due to multiple reasons. First, at the moment, infrastructure required to organise an air show at the base is not developed and will take at least 15-18 months to develop. Secondly, the airbase is small and there is no radar facility there. Thirdly, the airstrip is currently being resurfaced and the length of the runway is too short to operate big transport aircraft. Moreover, the road connecting Lucknow to Bakshi Ka Talab is also in bad shape.

Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy had written to Modi and Sitharaman, insisting that Bengaluru would be the "best choice" for the biennial event. "Bengaluru, being the hub for defence and aviation majors of the country, is certainly the most suitable place to conduct the show," Kumaraswamy wrote in his letter. The voices of dissent on Aero India even came from within the BJP, as Union Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda requested Sitharaman, his cabinet colleague, to drop the move to shift the air show from Karnataka.

Defence experts too had argued in favour of retaining Aero India in Bengaluru, stating the city has a cluster of defence research organisations and was in a strategic location to host the air show.

Aero India, organised at the Indian Air Force base at Yelahanka, was first held in 1996 and has emerged as one of the important military aviation exhibitions. In 2017, it had attracted a total of 549 companies (270 Indian and 279 foreign) from 51 countries.

(With inputs from Prathima Nandakumar)