New Delhi: As and when the announcement comes, it will be the first time since its inception in 1996 that the Aero India show will fly out of Bengaluru.
The new venue is widely speculated to be the Bakshi Ka Talab air force base on the outskirts of Lucknow, though an official announcement has been delayed given the politics that is swirling around the flagship event.
While Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy has now officially written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, making a case for Bengaluru to retain the show, it has now emerged that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is keen on the shift despite objections by the Indian Air Force.
Government sources have confirmed that the air force was against moving the Aero India show out of the Yelahanka Airforce station.
According to the force, there were two reasons for its apprehension. First, the infrastructure needed to host an event of this scale has been created at Yelahanka over the years and the sudden decision to move out would require preparations on a war footing.
Second, the air force argued that Bakshi Ka Talab, which the ministry of defence is keen on, is highly unsuitable as the runway is under repair, the approach road from Lucknow is a “nightmare” and there is no place to house so many aircraft and vendors.
It added that the small station did not have modern navigational aids such as ILS VOR or DME and even if they went on an overdrive, the Uttar Pradesh airport would not be able to match up to the facilities in Bengaluru.
In his letter to the PM, Kumaraswamy insisted Bengaluru would be the "best choice" for
the biennial event. "Bengaluru being the hub for defence and aviation majors of the country, is certainly the most suitable place to conduct the show," he said in the letter.
He noted that Bengaluru has become synonymous with Aero India. In order to aid and assist the defence ministry, the state has also suitably upgraded its infrastructure in terms of roads, public amenities and smooth flow of traffic, he said.
Ever since its inception in 1996, Bengaluru has been playing host to Asia's biggest air show, in which 549 global and Indian companies from 51 countries participated at the 11th edition, held in February 2017.
However, the concerns raised by the IAF were overruled. The PMO was keen on the show being shifted to either Bhuj in Gujarat or Uttar Pradesh. Requests to host Aero India have come from states such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, Odisha and UP. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath upped his game on Friday, making a public appeal to defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Aligarh to shift the venue of the event.
The three potential venues in Uttar Pradesh are Hindon, Agra and Bakshi Ka Talab and a recce of Bakshi ka Talab has already taken place.
Ministry of defence sources said the discussions were still underway and a final decision on the venue would be announced this week. However, big defence players, SMEs and vendors who will be participating in the event have already started preparing for the shift. Arranging logistics to shift equipment and planes will be a challenge. The planning and work of a year will now have to be executed within three months.
Aero India, which was to be held in February 2019 was advanced to November 2018. The shift in venue to a state that has 80 Lok Sabha seats is being seen as a political masterstroke. However, Karnataka isn’t going down without a fight.