The Indian Air Force (IAF) is planning to curtail the role of the Antonov-32 (AN-32) in extreme environments following the June 3 crash in Arunachal Pradesh that led to the deaths of 13 people — the third fatal incident of the Soviet-origin aircraft in India over the last 10 years.

According to three senior IAF officers, who asked not to be named, the AN-32, seen as a workhorse for the force, may be taken off duties that involve flying over mountainous regions and oceans out of safety concerns.

“The effort will be to assign most of those tasks to the C295 medium transport aircraft that we are buying. They have higher safety margins,” said one of the officials, who is familiar with IAF’s modernisation.

A second official said the defence ministry has wrapped up price negotiations for 56 C295 aircraft made by Airbus, and while it is meant to replace the fleet of the vintage medium-sized Avro 748 transport planes, it will also be suitable for demanding roles that the AN-32 currently undertakes.

The $2.5-billion project is likely to come up before the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) for final clearance. Airbus Defence and Space and Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) will jointly execute the project, which will also be part of the Make in India initiative in the aerospace sector, the second official said.

Once the contract is awarded, Airbus will supply the first 16 aircraft in “flyaway condition” while the remaining 40 will be assembled in India by TASL.

“After the DAC’s clearance, the C295 purchase will be sent to the Cabinet Committee on Security for approval. The contract is likely to be awarded by the year-end. While the C295 is a replacement for Avro, it will conduct some of the critical duties currently assigned to AN-32s,” said the third IAF official.

The first 16 planes will be supplied in two years, and the deliveries of the 40 locally-assembled ones will be spread over an additional eight years.

“The AN-32 is a versatile plane and has served us well. But it’s too old and even the upgraded variants are nowhere close to new-generation tactical airlifters. The C295s can carry out most of the roles performed by AN-32s. I hope we conclude the C295 deal soon,” said Air Chief Marshal Fali Major (retd), a former IAF chief.

The C295 can operate from short, unprepared airstrips and carry out a raft of missions in all-weather conditions.

The June 3 AN-32 crash has put the safety record of the aircraft in the spotlight, especially since the incident now takes the total toll in AN-32 accidents to 55 in 10 years. The plane took off from Jorhat in Assam and was on its way to an advanced landing ground at Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh’s West Siang district when it vanished from the radar screens and slammed into a hillside.

An airborne search team spotted the wreckage on Tuesday, eight days after it disappeared. There were no survivors, IAF confirmed on Thursday.

In July 2016, an AN-32 went down in the Bay of Bengal with 29 people on board. Exactly a decade ago, an AN-32 crashed in West Siang, killing all 13 on board.

The IAF operates a fleet of around 100 AN-32s, more than any other air force in the world. Some of the AN-32s have undergone an upgrade in Ukraine to improve avionics and increase engine lifespan.

Several planes are also being upgraded at an IAF repair facility in Kanpur as part of the same contract. India and Ukraine inked a $400-million deal in 2009 to modernise the planes.

First Published:
Jun 15, 2019 05:53 IST

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