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HAL revives 6-yr-old JV with France’s Safran for helicopter engine MRO in Goa

‘World class facility’ to set standards for maintenance of over 1,000 Safran-designed engines in use by the Indian armed forces

Photo Credit : HAL

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HAL's Dhruv helicopter powered by the Safran-designed Shakti engine

French engine maker Safran and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) have revived a joint venture (JV) to run an MRO facility in Goa for Shakti and Turbomeca333 engines used to power all helicopters manufactured by HAL. 

The JV was announced in 2016 after the armed forces expressed dissatisfaction over maintenance of the French-designed engines by HAL. The Turbomeca and Shakti engines power the Cheetah-Chetak and Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv series fleets of the Indian armed forces.

But this JV - Helicopter Engines MRO Pvt Limited (HE-MRO) - did not take off for six years. 

On March 14, this JV was taken out of limbo with a ground-breaking ceremony for the setting up of the MRO facility at Sattari, 40 km from Goa’s capital Panaji. This facility will be operational by the end of 2023 with an initial capacity to repair and overhaul 50 engines a year. The capacity will be ramped up for maintenance of up to 150 engines in the coming years. 

The Indian armed forces are one of the largest operators of Safran-designed helicopter engines. The Indian Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard helicopter fleets use over Safran 1000 engines, including 250 TM333s and over 500 Shaktis. Partly manufactured by HAL, the Shakti is the derivative the Safran Ardiden 1H1 for high-altitude operations. India is the only user of Shakti engines. 

Shakti also powers Rudra, the armed variant of the Dhruv and has also been selected for the HAL’s Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). The Ardiden 1U variant powers the under development Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), a three-ton single-engine aircraft.

“The 1,000 sqm training and office facility and a 3,800 sqm international class shop facility will provide Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) services for Safran TM333 and HAL Shakti engines installed on HAL-built helicopters to increase the operational readiness of the Indian Armed Forces,” HAL Chairman R Madhavan said at the launch ceremony. 

The Goa facility will be an alternate to the one run by HAL at Bengaluru on its own. Safran promised to provide world class service to the forces through HE-MRO. “I am very proud to celebrate the launch of this world class MRO Centre…This complex will be a key factor for building customer satisfaction and supporting the Government of India’s vision for aerospace MRO in India. We support all HAL helicopter programs and will offer the level of commitment to their future projects,” Safran Helicopter Engines CEO Frank Saudo said. 

An HAL statement averred that the aim of the MRO is to “constantly improve serviceability and reduce cycle time to help the operational preparedness of Indian Armed Forces”. 

Through this launch ceremony, both companies commit to a multi-year investment plan, with construction starting very soon, HAL added. 

HAL also tried to explain the long delay in activating the JV with Safran. “An earlier planned construction of this project had to be postponed due to a major crisis impacting the international helicopter market, closely followed by the worldwide COVID-pandemic,” it stated. 

At the ground-breaking ceremony, the two sides also signed a “strategic MoU” to extend cooperation and explore opportunities for new helicopter engines in civil and military markets. The Ardiden 1U engine was certified by India’s DGCA in July 2021 for civil applications. 

The MoU was signed by Safran’s Florent Chauvancy and Amitabh Bhatt, CEO of HAL’s Bangalore Complex signed. 

Expansion plans for the Gia facility include MRO for civil helicopter engines in the future.

“The JV will also bring employment opportunities to over 60 qualified engineers and technicians of the region. The employment number will increase with growing activities over the years,” the statement added.