BANGALORE-BASED Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is indeed flying high. One of the persons who has taken this public sector undertaking to great heights is C.G. Krishnadas Nair, who was its chairman-cum-managing director (CMD) from 1997 to 2001.
Dr. Nair has the unique distinction of being the first civilian chairman of this prestigious organisation, which till then had always been headed by a senior Air Marshal of the Indian Air Force.
Dr. Nair, currently the president of the Society of Indian Aerospace Technologies and Industries (SIATI), was in town recently to receive the coveted `Platinum Medal' of the Indian Institute of Metals, at its 58th Annual Technical Meet, which drew to a close here today.
A metallurgist by profession, Dr. Nair has come to be rated as an authority on aerospace technology. It was he who, along with K. Kasturirangan, founded the SIATI, which has over 300 companies engaged in the manufacture of components, equipment and systems for the high-profile aerospace industry. He is also the founder chairman of the Society for Defence Technologies (SODET), formed to bring about a synergy among defence production units in the country.
"The aerospace industry in India has come of age. It is poised for greater strides in the years to come. India is now in a position to manufacture the world's cheapest and most advanced initial jet trainers, which will roll out in 2006," says Dr. Nair, whose contributions in this area have been widely acclaimed.
It was during his tenure as the CMD of HAL that the research and development activities there received a fillip. He has always laid emphasis on indigenisation and self-reliance. He was instrumental in building partnerships with overseas and Indian companies, which enabled HAL to spread its wings to cover various aerospace activities such as design, development, manufacture and maintenance of aircraft. During this period, HAL also transformed itself into a commercial organisation from a captive industry, with improved efficiency and productivity.
Over the last six decades, HAL has indigenously manufactured, designed and developed trainers, fighters, helicopters, avionics and mechanical systems, sophisticated airborne and ground equipment. It has also been regularly upgrading Indian Air Force fighter aircraft such as MiGs, Jaguar and Mirage 2000. The Indian Air Force is the largest customer of the company.
HAL has been doing well in the area of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the most ambitious multi-role fighter meant to replace the MiG-21. The chief architect of this project is the President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, with whom Dr. Nair has associated.
Apart from the LCA, the new R&D initiatives of HAL are on the Advanced Light Helicopter, Light Combat Aircraft, Intermediate Jet Trainer, a trainer for the 21st century, and Lancer, a light attack helicopter. The indigenous design and production of aircraft has been very successful in India.
HAL has world-class technology and capability in civil aircraft production too. But purchases are decided more by political equations with other countries and more so, on a buy-back agreement. Dr. Nair suggests that India should enter into such an agreement with other countries. He said that the different organisations and agencies concerned with the aerospace industry should be brought under an Aerospace Commission, to be formed under a National Aeronautical Policy. Referring to the ongoing controversy in Kerala over the mining of mineral sand on the beaches of Kollam and Alappuzha, Dr. Nair says that there is nothing wrong in exploiting the available mineral resources. However, rather than exporting mineral sand in its raw form, sand should be processed to produce titanium dioxide, he says. With the chloride process that has been found to be environment friendly now being resorted to in Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited, this can be made possible. Ten integrated titanium plants of the size of KMML can be set up in the country with the resources available. If they are set up as joint ventures, it would be better, he feels.
Dr. Nair is also the Vice-Chancellor of MATS University, Raipur, a Professor at the IIT, Chennai, and a visiting faculty member of several universities abroad. The nation honoured Dr. Nair, a native of Ernakulam, with the Padmashri award in 2001, when he was heading HAL.