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Air Crash Investigators: Should HAL be Blamed For Mirage 2000 Crash and Death of 2 Pilots?

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Recently, the Mirage 2000 of the Indian Air Force (IAF) crashed at the Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL), Bengaluru. The test pilots who flew the aircraft – Squadron leader Siddhartha Negi and pilot Samir Abrol were a part of the Aircraft and System Testing Establishment (ASTE). According to the sources, both the pilots had gone for a general training session on the Mirage 2000. It was on an acceptance sortie after up-gradation from the HAL.

WHAT HAS BEEN REVEALED BY THE SOURCES

The flight took as scheduled from the runaway. This is clear because the final call of late Abrol was “Everything okay sir.” As per sources, both the pilots ejected. However, late Siddhartha Negi landed on the flaming debris and thus died on the spot.

Samir Abrol also landed in the premises of the explosion zone of the aircraft which crashed. He was taken to the hospital with severe burns and internal injuries where he later succumbed to his injuries.

It is not in control of the pilots until certain conditions are met. As per any usual protocol, any aircraft after modernization or upgradation is the first test flown by the HAL test pilots. Only after that, any ASTE pilot is allowed to fly that aircraft. To ensure this protocol is followed, there are various institutions which act as a watchdog.

Also, ASTE pilots are among the best and the most qualified personnel of the IAF. Apart from the number of flying hours and the technology used, they are trained to fly on platforms which have never been used for flying purpose before. It allows them to work on multiple platforms and technologies developed by various countries. Now when the HAL is under scrutiny by almost everyone in the country, EurAsian Times analyzes the situation.

THE PRESENT POSITION OF THE HAL

HAL completed its 78 years this year and has been a backbone to the Indian Air force for decades now. Approximately, two-thirds of the types of equipment of the IAF are manufactured by HAL. Light Combat Aircrafts (LCA), Tejas with improved technologies is some of its manufactured products.

The 25 ton Sukhoi MKI fourth generation fighter aircraft of the Russian origin was made right from scratch. However, it should be noted that all these were only licensed manufactured.

Due to the recent events taking place in the defence industry, the HAL has been dishonoured. However, at the same time, we cannot ignore the harsh reality of the performance of the HAL in the past few years.

In a recent press conference held in New Delhi, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa stated that the support for the HAL by the IAF has time and again proven to be fatal for the young lives induced in the force. The IAF is procuring the 20 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) with the same standards issued in the year 1985.

The IAF has raised quality issues on many occasions. The commitment to the production of the LCA has been delayed by over 6 years. On the other hand, the additional production of Su-30 has also been delayed by over two years.

There used to be a time when the HAL boasted about a business of about INR 1.5-2 trillion which has now led to a backlog of 8-11 years at the current rate. Now with just a business of over 690 billion (as of 2018) of 30-odd Su-30MKI and about 70 Dhruv ALHs, there is hardly any work for them. To be precise, the revenue for the financial year (FY) ending March 31, 2018, was Rs 180 billion (provisional and unaudited). It was a little higher than the previous year turnover of Rs 176.05 billion.

This is the reason that they had a very lukewarm response for their Initial Public Offering (IPO) when the subscribers subscribed only 40%. So leave aside the Rafale deal in which the HAL was not able to be a part. The organization is not even able to fulfil the necessary orders given by the Indian Air Force.

PROBLEMS WITH THE HAL

The actual reason for the crash cannot be entirely put on Hindustan Aeronautical Limited. The IAF and the HAL are investigating the crash. Until the reports do not arrive from the Court of Inquiry, nothing can be assumed. Nevertheless, HAL is another Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) which is grappling due to low budgets and substantial political interference.  The problem of delayed delivery is due to the lethargic behaviour of the HAL employees and the representatives alike.

Since there is no accountability, there have been poor engineering standards resulting in a maintenance problem.  Last but not the least the poor quality resulting in accidents and a negative after – sale services is forcing the forces to rely upon foreign vendors for most of the equipment.

WAY AHEAD

Till now, the activities of HAL have been overlooked by about 35 defence ministers. Being a part of the PSU, it has been given top priority for manufacturing the equipment for the Indian Armed Forces. However what is alarming is that now on has ever looked or questioned the quality of the products being created.

The defence ministry has for long lacked the expertise required to supervise the defence PSU. The most important is that the person chosen to head has always lacked the qualities required to run such a potential asset of the country.

Instead of the regular bureaucrats heading the defence PSU, there should be a shift in the process of the selecting. This will ensure that the most qualified and a talented person is in the driving seat.

In case of any mishap, there should be a process for holding the institution accountable. After all, we are losing brilliant pilots who are an asset to the country’s forces. This is even more essential after the Sanjeet Singh Kaila vs. Union of India in which the Delhi HC gave its judgment. He sued both the government and the HAL. The court finally ordered to pay him a compensation of Rs 55 lakh. Of this, five lakh was to be paid by the Centre and the rest by HAL.

So, instead of making it a story of celebrating the underperformance of HAL, which has been the attraction rather than the death of the 2 pilots of the blame game of how bad the HAL is, we should look ahead and try to improve the situation. The Aero India 2019 is just a few days away. Using this as a viable option for defence modernization would be the right decision. Till then the least which we all can do is to pray for the well being of the deceased families and bless their souls.

By: Apoorva Iyer (Views of the Author)

More News at EurAsian Times

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