India’s frontline combat aircraft Sukhoi-30 fleet, which was grounded after a crash near Pune, will be back in air “within a week’s time”, Air Force Chief Arup Raha said on Friday.
He also said that the findings of a Court of Inquiry into the crash are being finalised.
This is the longest period that the Russian-made aircraft has been grounded since 2009 when its operation was suspended for nearly three weeks following an accident.
“This (Pune crash on October 14) was an accident which appeared to be automatic firing of the seats. Court of Inquiry is about to be complete and the findings are being finalised. We will have the results very soon and we are going to start flying the aircraft very soon,” Raha told reporters in New Delhi on Friday.
He said that “preliminary findings” do indicate that they have been able to find the reason and “we will be able to tackle the problem without much issue”.
“I am very hopeful that the CoI will end soon and we will be able to fly this fleet all over again and get back to normal,” he said.
Asked specifically how long will it take for the Sukhoi flights to resume, he said, “Within a week’s time we will start flying this aircraft”.
Talking about the issues related to after sales support by Russians, the Air Force Chief said SU-30 is a “huge and complicated project” under which 270 plus aircraft are being acquired from Russia.
“Of course IAF has been involved in final configuration of the aircraft. A lot of it is from our side, indigenous and from other sources. So this is a huge project, a complicated project,” the Chief of Air Staff said.
Raha said the aircraft has good operation capabilities but there are spare supply issues that are being tackled.
“Any equipment that you buy, whether it is your own indigenous or from outside, it has its own problems and issues. Whatever you mentioned is being tackled,” he said, replying to questions about lack of proper post-sales support from Russians and huge delay in setting up of repair and overhaul facilities here.
Raha said the Air Force has been interacting with officials from Russia and HAL, which is also involved in the licensed production of aircraft and maintenance activities.
“All these are complicated procedures. It involves not only technology but also fiances. But these are being resolved. I will not say everything is in order but things are being worked out which happens in any product. There is distinct improvement, he said.
A team of 10 experts from Russia is currently in Pune, the Sukhoi-30 base, probing the crash that took place on 14th October near there with both the pilot seats ejecting without any command during landing.
The pilots were safe but the aircraft crashed about 20 kms short of the runway. As standard operating procedure, the flying of the aircraft was suspended and a CoI ordered.
The sources said the Russian experts have claimed that the ejection of seats cannot take place automatically, a contention that is not being accepted by the Indian Air Force.
The grounded fleet represents almost a third of the country’s fighter plane fleet. IAF is already down to 34 combat squadrons, as against an authorised strength of 44.
Each squadron has up to 18 fighter planes. This was the fifth accident involving a SU-30 MKI since 2009 and the fleet has at least been grounded twice earlier.