New Delhi, Oct 1 – The Indian Air Force (IAF) will soon float tenders for new trainers as its fleet of basic pilot trainer HPT-32 has been grounded following a spate of crashes and engine failures.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik Thursday said that the problem in the integration of the airframe with the engine has been creating problems with the aircraft.
‘We have already floated proposal for 70-80 new (trainer) aircraft and a similar number to be manufactured by HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd). It will take two-three years. We hope we can ride on this problem till then,’ said Naik.
The fleet of Hindustan Piston Trainer (HPT)-32 aircraft, stationed at the Air Force Academy (AFA) in Hyderabad, was grounded last month following engine failures. This comes at a time when the force faces an acute shortage of efficient pilots.
‘The aircraft has been in service since the early 1980s. We have got a lot problems with the integration of airframe and engine of the aircraft… We have ordered an inquiry and a study headed by an air vice marshal to see what we can do with this aircraft.
‘Can we carry it till 2013-14 or shall we scrap it? Till the time the study comes out, we will not be flying it,’ Naik told reporters here.
The engine failures raised concern as the aircraft are handled by rookies for initial flight training.
Usually around 140-150 cadets of the flying branch are trained on the HPT-32. They then graduate to the intermediate flight and weapons training aircraft Surya Kiran.
However, with the initial trainer being grounded, cadets are now directly being trained on the Surya Kirans, affecting the training schedule of the pilots.
‘Pilot intake has to continue, so we have resorted to all jet training on Kirans. Now Kirans are also limited, so we can sustain this only for a year and a half. Thereafter, hopefully, we will have a solution,’ Naik said.
On July 31 this year, an HPT-32 aircraft crashed at Annaram village of Medak district in Andhra Pradesh and both the instructors on board were killed. In May last year, a woman cadet of the AFA died during a crash after fuel leaked into the engine.
The basic propeller-driven trainer, with two side-by-side seats, suffered more than 70 incidents between 1988 and 1995.
A group was constituted to study the aircraft, manufactured by the state-run HAL that has been in service for three decades.
According to the study, the Avco Lycoming AEIO-540-D4B5 engine in the aircraft has registered more than 100 failures in recent months.
Last year, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India pointed out in its report that the IAF was facing an acute shortage of efficient pilots after failing to impart quality training. It attributed the discontinuity in training to lack of adequate state-of-the-art training aircraft with the IAF.
‘HPT-32 aircraft used for Stage-I training is technologically outdated and beset by flight safety hazards. In spite of the loss of 11 pilots and 15 aircraft, it continues to be used today. Further, HPT-32 does not aid in the smooth transition of trainees to the next stage of training,’ the CAG had said.