Serious Business: Mahindra Aerospace

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GA_8

Mahindra Aerospace GA-8 Airvan at Aero India 2011

This article focuses only on airplane manufacturing and does not cover aerospace services or aerospace manufacturing services. In this article: Mahindra Aerospace’s story: how it was born; 8 seat piston to be manufactured near Bangalore, in 2 years time; GippsAERO brandname no longer exists, replaced by Mahindra Aerospace; Mahindra eyeing Beechcraft.

The birth and growth of Mahindra Aerospace

Mahindra’s foray into the aerospace segment was with the acquisition of 88.41% stake in Plexion Technologies (India) Limited (Plexion) in the year 2006. The main aim was to complement and help grow Mahindra Engineering Services portfolio in the automotive sector. But Plexion also offered Engineering Services to the Aerospace sector.

Plexion’s modest presence in aerospace made the Mahindra group ponder over the prospect of stepping into the aviation industry, for a year. Seeing the potential, the Mahindra group chose to focus on aircraft, and aerospace structures, creating the Mahindra Aerospace division in 2007, to expand the group’s existing automotive design and manufacturing expertise to the aerospace industry. The majority acquisition of Plexion brought to Mahindra the NM-5, a 5 seat (including the pilot’s) airplane being developed by NAL (and now with Mahindra in a 50:50 partnership) as an extension to the 2 seat Hansa aircraft.

But it was only in 2009 that Mahindra entered the aerospace manufacturing segment with the simultaneous acquisition of a majority stake in two Australian companies, Aerostaff Australia and Gippsland Aeronautics, which later became GippsAERO. While one is a component manufacturer of high-precision close-tolerance aircraft components and assemblies for large aerospace OEMs, essential to catapult M&M into the burgeoning Defence Offset and Commercial Aviation market, Gippsland Aeronautics (GA) is an established general aviation aircraft manufacturer, known primarily for its piston powered 8 seat GA-8 Airvan.

The NM-5 program got a boost with the capabilities that GippsAERO brought with it. 5 years after the preliminary design of the aircraft commenced, the aircraft took to the skies, although in Australia, on 1st September 2011 and lasted 45 minutes. The aircraft is yet to be certified.

An stretched version of the GA-8, the turboprop GA-10, with the capability to seat 10 persons, first flew in the May of 2012, and is expected to be certified in the first quarter of 2014. Prior to the acquisition, GippsAERO in 2008 had announced that it had won bidding to take over the type certificate of the Australian Government Aircraft Factories (GAF) Nomad’s design, renaming it the GA-18, and will re-engineer (the original design was problematic and resulted in 32 write-offs, claiming 76 lives) and put back into production the 18 seat airplane, once the GA-10’s certification is through.

Since the February of 2013, as part of a unified branding strategy, the “GippsAERO" name has been dropped and replaced by Mahindra Aerospace, renaming the aircraft portfolio Mahindra Aerospace GA-8, GA-10 and GA-18.

Acquisition is preferable to organic growth, especially for a starter in aerospace, today. “You cannot spend a lot of time developing three or four aircraft and getting them certified,” said Arvind Mehra, executive director and chief executive of Mahindra Aerospace, in an interview with Flightglobal, years back. “This would take forever. We looked at various targets, and finally bought GippsAERO in Australia, which gave us three aircraft (GA-8, GA-10, GA-18) on day one.”

This is no different from Bombardier’s approach. The Canadian planemaker got into aerospace in 1986 with the acquisition of Canadair, followed by the acquisition of Short Brothers, Learjet, de Havilland Aircraft: all of which produced excellent aircraft but were in the red.

According to Bloomberg, Mahindra Aerospace has now set its sights on the acquisition of Beechcraft Corporation, the aircraft manufacturer known for its popular King Air turboprops, Beechcraft Baron, and Beechcraft Bonanza, and the Hawker series of Business Jets, but had entered bankruptcy in May 2012, and exited Bankruptcy in the February of 2013, and is looking at auctioning off its business, for around US$ 1.5B.

Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia, feels, “[Mahindra’s] own indigenous development program, which is what they’ve been looking at, has a much higher risk than acquiring Beechcraft. If you can get a good deal on an existing family of planes, that’s definitely an easier way." Besides, it opens the doors to the North American aerospace industry.

But acquiring the troubled plane maker which is planning on shutting its business jet production and focusing only on its piston and turboprop offerings, may deter Mahindra with the US$1.5B figure.

Local Airplane manufacturing

Narsapur, 40 kilometres from the aviation capital of India, Bangalore, witnessed the setup of Mahindra Aerospace’s manufacturing facility, in technical collaboration with Aeronova, a Spanish company specialising in the design and manufacture of major airframe assemblies. In 2 years, the GA-8 is expected to be manufactured in the country, making it the first private player to build certified aircraft in the normal and commuter categories, in the country.

The inauguration of this facility helps realise the dreams of Mahindra Aerospace. In the August of 2011, while announcing the development of the manufacturing facility at Narsapur, Hemant Luthra, President – Mahindra Systech, which takes care of the group’s aero service business, and member of the Group Executive Board, expressed the group’s ambitions. “From the family of Mahindra Aerospace planes that include the NM5, we would be disappointed if in 3-5 years time we were not clocking a rate of 100 aircraft per annum in India. This rate could get accelerated if we include exports to China and other countries.”

In the same year, Mehra had said to Flightglobal that he sees Mahindra Aerospace becoming the Embraer of India, carving out a niche in a world dominated by big Western players. “Embraer grew out of a country with no aviation experience. They competed with Boeing and Airbus and made a space for themselves. Embraer is a beautiful story.”

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