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India and France march ahead to produce a new generation of helicopter engines under ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’

A future 13-tonne Indian Multi Role Helicopter (All images courtesy: Safran)

French aviation major Safran and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) signed an agreement on Friday to create a new joint venture intended to develop helicopter engines under the Narendra Modi government's vision of 'Atmanirbhar Bharat'.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by HAL CMD R Madhavan and Safran Helicopter Engines CEO Franck Saudo in the presence of Safran CEO Olivier Andries as both partners extended their partnership by establishing a new aero-engine company in India.

The new company will be dedicated to the development, production, sales and support of helicopter engines and one of its main objectives will be to meet the requirements of HAL and India's Ministry of Defence (MoD) future helicopters, including the future 13-tonne IMRH (Indian Multi Role Helicopter).

As reported by IndiaNarrative.com earlier this week, Safran – a French pioneer in aeroengine design, development and manufacturing – was all set to announce a Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility for Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion (LEAP) commercial aircraft engines in India.

The hugely innovative LEAP engine, which consumes 15% less fuel than its predecessor CFM56, is a massive commercial success for the company with an order backlog exceeding 9,700 units at the end of 2021.

It has been selected for three aircraft – LEAP-1A for the Airbus A320neo, LEAP-1B for the Boeing 737 MAX and LEAP-1C for the Comac C919. Safran is ready for the second LEAP production ramp-up and expects production to double between 2021 and 2023, with around 2,000 LEAP engines estimated for 2023.

On Thursday, two plants were inaugurated in Hyderabad for Safran Aircraft Engines and Safran Electrical and Power, bolstering its strategic partnership with the country. 

Safran

The Safran Aircraft Engines plant, spanning 15,000 square meters (162,000 square feet), will make rotating parts for the LEAP engine from CFM International. It will provide the additional capacity needed to meet the requirements of a production ramp-up for the best-selling commercial airplane engine of its generation.

Safran Electrical amd Power's plant, located in the same airport zone as the Safran Aircraft Engines plant and sharing all support functions, makes wiring for LEAP engines and the Rafale fighter. Opened in November 2018, the plant has 150 employees today, growing to 200 when it reaches full capacity.

During the inauguration, Jean-Paul Alary, Chief Executive Officer of Safran Aircraft Engines, announced the creation of a new maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility for CFM LEAP engines, to be built at the industrial Park of GMR. The largest MRO centre in the network, it will start operations in 2025 and will eventually offer an annual capacity of 250 to 300 engine shop visits.

The LEAP and its predecessor, the CFM56, now power over 330 Airbus A320/A320neo and Boeing 737/737 MAX airplanes deployed by airlines in the Indian sub-continent.  More than 1,500 LEAP engines are currently on order in the region. 

The third plant – for Safran HAL Aircraft Engines, a 50/50 joint venture between Safran Aircraft Engines and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited – was inaugurated on Friday in Bangalore.

This new site replaces the initial plant that dates from 2005, more than doubling the surface area and featuring state-of-the-art installations. It's located in a Special Economic Zone near the Bangalore airport. Spanning 11,000 square meters (118,800 sq ft), the plant makes complex piping, mostly for the LEAP engine, and has about 150 employees.

"The creation of this new joint venture marks a turning point in our relationship with HAL and the Indian MoD with the development and production of a new generation of helicopter engine. We are proud to further expand our structuring partnership with HAL, which began more than 50 years ago," said Saudo.

Safran Helicopter Engines and HAL have already multiple partnerships, including the Shakti engine, which powers HAL-produced helicopters, including the Dhruv, Rudra and the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). The Ardiden 1U variant also powers the new Light Utility Helicopter (LUH).

The Safran Helicopter Engines' CEO said that, with a fleet of over 1,000 engines, India's Armed Forces are one of the largest operators of Safran-designed helicopter engines.

"Safran Helicopter Engines has been our valued partner for several decades. We now look forward to utilize this opportunity to leverage HAL's experience in manufacturing of more than 15 types of aircraft and helicopter engines to jointly co-develop and manufacture engine with immediate focus on IMRH and its naval variant the Deck Based Multi Role Helicopter (DBMRH). This partnership will involve and utilize the Indian Defence manufacturing ecosystem within India," said Madhavan, the CMD of HAL.

Through HE-MRO joint venture in Goa, Safran Helicopter Engines and HAL will also provide MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) services for TM333 and Shakti engines in service with Indian Armed Forces. It will be operational by the end of 2023.

During his visit to India, Andries also announced the creation of Digit, an in-house entity tasked with the development of digital systems for Safran. The entity's two main facilities, in Hyderabad and Mumbai, plans to recruit 1,000 people over the next five years by calling on India's vast talent pool for the development of digital applications and systems, as well as cybersecurity.  

Also Read: French aero-engine giant Safran set to debut production in India