New Delhi, Jan. 5: The armed forces have practically grounded the entire fleet of the indigenous Dhruv helicopters after repeated complaints of a technical snag.
Officially, the reason for the grounding given by the public sector manufacturer, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), is that it wants to carry out checks. But, in effect, this puts a brake on efforts to export the showpiece helicopter and on domestic sales.
The army, the navy and the air force fly 46 Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters between them. The order to ground the choppers came after the crash of a Dhruv in Andhra Pradesh in November. That helicopter was being delivered to the Jharkhand government. In addition, users of the machine have told HAL that the helicopter’s tail rotor was suspect.
In 2004, one of the first helicopters to be exported (to Nepal) was returned by the Royal Nepal Army to HAL for repairs after a “hard landing”.
Defence ministry sources said they were reluctant to describe the decision not to fly the Dhruv as an order to ground the fleet. “All the Dhruv helicopters are being subjected to a thorough check and they will progressively be cleared by HAL,” a defence ministry spokesperson said.
A team from HAL has been visiting the bases of the armed forces where the Dhruvs are located and certifying their airworthiness after inspections. The spokesperson said two Dhruv choppers had already been cleared.
The army aviation corps has 30 Dhruv helicopters, the air force 13 and the navy three.
HAL expects it will have orders for about 300 helicopters from different defence and civilian authorities ' like state governments ' that it can service over 10 years.
Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee visited Chile in November and was seeking to push the sale of the helicopter to the South American country where it has been demonstrated. The helicopter has also been displayed at defence exhibitions in Southeast Asia and West Asia. The Indian Air Force has formed a squadron (named Sarang) of Dhruv helicopters that gives aerobatic performances on ceremonial occasions to advertise the aircraft.
HAL also has an arrangement with Israel Aircraft Industries to market the helicopter ' a version of which is fitted with Israeli avionics ' overseas.
The armed forces and HAL decided on “thorough inspections” after a Dhruv being delivered to the Jharkhand government crash-landed about 140 km northeast of the Hakimpet Air Force base near Hyderabad on November 25. The helicopter was being flown from Bangalore to Ranchi with stopovers. A board of inquiry concluded that the helicopter came down because of the tail rotor snag.