Bhubaneswar: With Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman revealing plans to make India a global hub for aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO), Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has been urged to move the Centre to set up the facility at the abandoned World War II air strip at Amarda Road in Mayurbhanj district.
During announcement of the Rs 20-lakh crore economic stimulus package last month, Sitharaman said besides the civil aeroplanes, defence aircraft can also benefit from the MRO. Maintenance cost for all airlines will come down and that again will have a ripple effect on passengers, she added.
According to researcher Anil Dhir, the abandoned World War II air strip at Amarda Road near Rasgovindpur is best suited for this purpose. It has one of the longest runways and around 900 acre of land.
Since no Indian airport has the infrastructure for setting up MRO facilities, setting up a greenfield project will be very expensive. But the Amarda Road base can easily be activated and converted into a world class hub, Dhir said. Being close to the Bay of Bengal, trials and testing of aircraft will also be safer and easier, he added.
The Amarda Road Airfield was built during the Second World War as a forward airfield against the Japanese conquest of Burma (present-day Myanmar). The large strip was used as a landing ground for planes and as a training space for special bombing missions. It had the longest runway of more than 3.5 km long in Asia. The total runways, taxiways and aprons were more than 60 km. It was abandoned after the war.
According to the Economic Survey for 2019-20, the annual import of MRO services by Indian carriers is around Rs 10,000 crore. With airlines’ fleet growing annually by 100, the size of domestic airline MRO is set to grow annually to Rs 21,600 crore in the next five years and to Rs 36,000 crore once the fleet size reaches 2,000 aircraft, it said.
Considering these points, a competitive MRO industry would help Indian carriers reduce expenses on such works which are currently being done overseas, Dhir noted.
Environmentalist and Chairman of Greenpeace India Biswajit Mohanty said after fuel, the MRO is the next biggest expense for any operator and is a big drain on foreign exchange too. A convergence between the defence sector and the civil MROs will create economies of scale.
Hotelier Debasish Patnaik said the state government should innovate and reach out for newer avenues. Besides generating employment, such hubs will accelerate the growth of many downstream units, he added.
Noted economist Satya Panda said Rasgovindpur is a backward area and this will boost the local economy. The HAL facility at Koraput should be roped in, he added.