Wednesday, November 11, 2009

AoA: Wake Up, HAL

In case you haven't noticed -- or haven't been keeping track of the Ecuadorian press (even if it's through Google's woefully ungrammatical translation tool) -- Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has been made skillfully into a public opinion whipping boy representing everything that is supposedly wrong with Ecuador's controversial year-old policy changes that effectively made defence spending less transparent. With HAL maintaining a ridiculous silence, the ALH Dhruv helicopter crash of October 27 has inevitably become representative of issues that are intrinsically Ecuadorian and only may have anything to do with the purchase of Indian helicopters. The press in Ecuador isn't stupid. But like many parts of the press here in India, it doesn't have a highly nuanced approach to information either. And boy, if there's the tiniest inkling that there's resistance to either supply information, or more importantly, a complete apathy towards correcting falsehood, then even stuff that's iffy/motivated when it goes into print, becomes accepted as accurate/fair.

Sadly, that's precisely what has happened over the last two weeks in Ecuador. Disturbingly for HAL, a few points made early on in the Ecuadorian press, have come to be largely espoused in public view. Blogs, newspapers, opinion columns are all unanimously -- yes, without exception -- of the view that the government erred grievously by choosing a helicopter that was almost 30 per cent cheaper than its competitors from the US, Russia and Israel. The largely held view, now, is that the government shouldn't have been looking to save money in safety-critical equipment like military helicopters, implying that buying one of the more expensive contenders would have ensured a greater degree of technical product safety. The logic is sound, even though Ecuadorian journalists have meticulously chosen to ignore multiple inputs from the country's air force chief and other senior-ranking officials that the accident was most likely caused by an unfortunate combination of circumstance (height of the helicopter AGL) and pilot error. So what you have now is an overwhelming sense that the Ecuadorian government either paid less for a helicopter that did not meet critical requirements, and ended up demonstrating that -- a patent falsehood -- by diving into the ground on October 27. Like I said, things are frequently perceived to be black and white in such matters. A combination of journalistic laziness, fed indefatigably by vested interests and a deep inclination for non-nuanced stories causes this. And if you add to that a deafeningly silent "target" (in this case, HAL), you've got publicity hell on a platter.

As a result of HAL's inexplicable refusal to engage the press and at least demonstrate an intention to be open with information, problems that are indubitably Ecuador's own, are now manifested conveniently in an otherwise world-class helicopter. That's why the newspaper cartoon depicting Shiva with a Dhruv head is such a perfect representation of what people think. Worse still, for an incident that was almost definitely not linked to a technical failure, there is an over-arching linkage by the press that wholly unconnected perceived contractual slippages -- for example, the non-supply of certain oxygen equipment, though this was justified pre-signing by HAL and accepted by the Ecuadorian government -- somehow sent FAE-604 into that uncontrolled port-roll into the tarmac. You see what I mean. It's ridiculous, but then if the guys you're slinging irrational mud at just refuse to take your calls, or say their boss back home has issued a stringent gag order on all things Dhruv, alarm bells would go off in even the fairest journalist's mind. And it's not like the Ecuadorian government is helping. In the larger scheme of things, it looks like the Dhruv as a scapegoat serves them just fine, just as long as all the ire is on the helicopter, and not on the people who chose it.

And while the bloodbath continues in Ecuador, HAL's three-member expert team has returned to India. They don't have the CVR/FDR with them. So what happens now, nobody knows.

But the thing that really makes me want to pick up an axe and take a flight to Bangalore, is HAL's genuine belief that such matters are not suitable for public discussion. What else could explain continuing with shutting down a robust communications department right in the middle of the company's first truly international disaster. I spoke to a member of HAL's management -- he's an idiot, and I can't name him -- who was furious about the stuff I've been posting here on LiveFist regarding the Dhruv crash. His words: "Why are you interfering? These matters will be resolved. There is no problem."

Yeah. No problem at all, Sir. None whatsoever.

20 comments :

Anonymous said...

great column. fully agree with your views. hal is an ostrich with its head in the sand. very sad state of affairs for india.

Anonymous said...

good column. hal really needs a wake up call. i hope the management reads this column.

Rahul Devnath said...

There's little to doubt HAL's immaturity in handling sensitive issues, pertaining to public sphere. Let them not sell any more stuff to anybody, else, we are going to loose potential good will as it is.

panky said...

HAL team return without tast device thats strange

Probably they want to return all HAL to India or they want an independent investigation

Truth for India said...

His words: "Why are you interfering? These matters will be resolved. There is no problem."

Thats why we call them Babu. HAL has so many facilities and manpower but still it's one of the low end aircraft manufacturer in the world, way behind Chinese. Even Pakistan's govt own PAC Kamra with their much lower capabilities and budget did better than HAL.

Mismanagement leads our PSUs in such a way that with so much money and talents they still far behind. Govt Babus again.........

Anonymous said...

How dare you Shiv to disagree with the HAL guy. There's no problems at all. After all, he is from the same bureaucratic establishment whose head once waved the paper "Indi-chini bhai bhai" and got a royal whooping.

Anonymous said...

The difference here is that HAL is a PSU whose employees are employed till death.

Any pvt sector company would be doing a better job at PR cos repeat business depends on having a clean record.

Another strike for the PSU babus. Way to go.
Have another tea break and take a nap.

Anonymous said...

HAL's attitude like that of all govt departments stems from the arcane secrecy mindset continuing since British raj which dictates that the people need to know nothing. RTI bill is not going to change this mindset overnight. Frankly I have no hope from any govt company be it a "navratna". Its easy to be profitable when you have no competition or least you dictate the terms of competition. My bet is on the competitive private sector. In another two decades HAL will be left in the shadow. and no, babus will not change.

Anonymous said...

Comparing PAC Kamra to HAL, LOL. PAC Kamra couldnt put a screwdriver to a screw without a Chinese holding their hands. The best part or the worst part is that people like Aroor in India, justifiably push for more transparency, but people in Pakistan, who wouldnt even know what that word meant, attempt to use it to attack something, in this case HAL, which their country will never get in a thousand years.

Anonymous said...

@ truth for india...
how the hell is PAC better ??
criticism should have only truth if you want to be taken seriously!!

Anonymous said...

HAL should be partly privatized to have better result in research , if it still remains govt enterprises the results will show only nightmare effect . so govt need to take steps .

Anonymous said...

All of the Anti Dhruv lobby in HAL is nothing but a Trajan horse, funded by western countries who donot like India to become self sufficient.
These babus get paid by HAL but work for some one else. had the same thing happened in China or USSR, they would have been a bullet in their head or at least fired from the job.

Anonymous said...

Comparing PAC Kamra to HAL. :lol:

PAC Kamra is of the level of Taneja Aerospace, the private company which builds piston engined4 seater planes in India. The only thing that the pakistanis have managed to do is the
Super Mushak, a laughable design, to train their pilots.

They even have to bring in some retired french engineers to service their Mirage 3s. Now for the first time in history they are assembling a jet aircraft, the JF-17. And this too with extensive chinese hand holding. The only thing they will be doing is assembling Completely Knocked Down Kits which will be imported from Chengdu, down to the rivets! Even chinese women aircraft assemblers will be teaching the pakistani mards how to assemble the fighter.
The end result will be a 3.5 generation aircraft, which does not have a radar selected and has not fired an AAM yet. The aircraft was cleared after just a dozen tests. :-)

LOL. This is the laughable state of affairs in pakistan.

Now coming to HAL and its decision to not reply back in the Ecuadorean press now.
I feel there are times when silence is golden. Slowly the press there will run out of steam, will run out of arguments and gradually the falsehood they've built up will unravel. Commenting now and leading a high power media camapign now will inflame the issue, and cause more trouble to the ecuadorean government and airforce which selected the Dhruv. If the Bofors scandal is anything to go by, although the gun was top class (As is the current bofors offering), the media in india created such a ruckus that Rajiv Gandhi actually lost an election because of this. No one in India bothered to actually see how good the gun was.

If GOI is keeping quiet, it is because there is experience of how the Bofors issue was carried out in the media, also this government has weathered similar issues like the 123 Nuclear Deal and the K Santhanam TN fizzle issues by keeping mum, let the media tire and then gagging everyone up once they ran out of arguments or their arguments fell flat on their faces.

This issue will be resolved, with the help of the ecuadorean government, and HAL and Dhruv will come on top. Sometimes it is wiser to cower in the dark like an SDRE, the confrontational approach some suggest is gutsy, and one can have enough guts to sink one's own battleship.

Unless there is an agenda to reappoint the media managers that HAL decided not to extend the contract with. If HAL wants media managers they will hire local people in Ecuador.

Anonymous said...

Last Anonymous 9:44 pm

The best boring post. Please never attempt to confuse us. And, don't use HAL PC for this.

Truth for India said...

Anon 2:03 PM, Well said. Totallly agree with you. Babus will never change. If the govt try to privatize HAL, Babus will not let them to do this. Same thing happens in every govt own company. If they were promised to be paid the same amount of salary still they don't want to work in a private farm! Guess why!!!!

Anon 4:08 PM, Please first know how much money Pakistani govt invests in PAC and ow much money GoI invests in HAL. Which facilities they have. Now compare them with their outcomes.

Anonymous said...

@Anon at 9.44 pm

That's probably the biggest bullcrap I have read in this blog (even after taking in Vincent). As you said yourself, the media created a ruckus as it was Bofors "scandal" and this is not Dhruv "Scandal". Are you the HAL idiot that Shiv mentioned in his blog?

Regarding GOI keeping mum on 123 and Santhanam, wonder why?

Anonymous said...

For HAL to publicly criticize the pilots would be a disaster if it cannot be done without the report...
It will be immature...
It will backfire ....will be seen as blaming them without even checking what happened...

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with anonymous 9:44
And about privatization bringing better R&D is Bull shit, remember the dhruv was made not with private funds and i believe everyone here agrees its a class product and no the days of 2 punch 1 lunch in HAL are gone, its a thoroughly professional organization now and try and get this into ur mind. shiv, i used to love your blog but in your effort to satisfy a few sick idiots u have done injustice to the quality of your posts so i advice u to visit HAL, speak to the relevant people before making any comments since u might have that privilege unlike other uninformed morons here, had HAL retaliated it would caused more bad publicity than what is already in circulation by the ecuador media and from what i heard, its a country far worse than india when it comes to politics, give it a few days and it will all subside then as anon mentioned Dhruv will emerge the winner
...A HAL engineer

Anonymous said...

to anon @ 9.44 pm
If the Bofors scandal is anything to go by, although the gun was top class (As is the current bofors offering), the media in india created such a ruckus that Rajiv Gandhi actually lost an election because of this. No one in India bothered to actually see how good the gun was.
Bofors was a good gun but not the best, in testing it came as a runner up or the 2nd best in the list of options INDIA had, the whole mess was created because the approval was done overnight and no explanation was given as to why a 2nd best was chosen over the best one.

Now coming to the point where the other posters are saying that it is better if HAl keeps quiet and that the whole controversy of Ecuadorian crash would fissile away, is pure BS. For example look at the way the Dassault and Boeing replied back when some reports about their planes came up in media reports, unlike HAL they did not keep quite and it was a correct way of approach unlike the lackadaisical way that the HAL is treating the whole situation.

Anonymous said...

HAL is not keeping quiet about any thing.
Please remember that HAL is a government organization. If the government wants to be quiet, HAL will be quiet.
There is method to this madness, that hot headed jingos sometimes fail to appreciate.

I agree with HAL keeping mum for now. Let the full report come in, the flight data recorders be deciphered. If there was not parts failure, then HAL will go ahead.

Please try and remember that everyone is trying to fight a media campaign far far away. There is already a vested interest there because it is a pilot error vs a machinery failure issue. If HAL harps too much on pilot error, its own record gets questioned in the media. The opponents of HAL who lost the contract will pitch in with the media opposed to the contract.

There is also national politics going on in Ecuador, with the media going into a anti government mode there, apparently corruption has been a long standing issue there. The whole field is murky and dirty politics is being played.
HAL does not need to dive right in with a loudspeaker in its hands now.