Boeing, one of the world’s largest aerospace and defence sector players with customers in more than 150 countries. is upbeat on India and its future.

On a recent visit to India, Brendan Nelson, Vice President of The Boeing Company and President of Boeing International, spoke to businessline about the company’s future outside of the US, a revival in global aviation post the pandemic, growth opportunities and threats to a slowing global economy.

Nelson is also the former Defence and Education Minister of Australia.



How has the transition been from being a politician to now heading Boeing’s international operations?

I’m a physician by training and was the president of the Australian Medical Association. I eventually served in the Australian Parliament for nearly 14 years, serving as Minister for Education, Science and Training for four and a half years before becoming Minister for Defence. It was in those two roles that I came to India several times; it played a role in driving the educational relationship between Australia and India and universities especially, and opening the Australian education market to Indian students.


How do you see the commercial aviation market in India?

Boeing has been a significant contributor in several areas, whether in commercial aviation, space exploration or defense. Today, in many ways, India reminds me of North America in late 19th Century — I mean an emerging superpower, a democracy populated by people who — based on my observations of Indians who have moved to Australia — are innovative, creative and hardworking.

So, in the commercial aviation market, the aggregate growth rate is expected to be 5.6 per cent after 2041. We estimate that the market will require approximately 2,200 additional aircraft by 2041. It could be more, as we believe that India in 2041 will be the third-largest commercial aviation market in the world after the US and China.


India is one of the largest buyers of arms internationally and Boeing is one of the largest vendors. What are the opportunities you see in that market?

In the defence sector, India is the third-largest force in the world. That said, India is a significant buyer of defence platforms and services. Currently, we have provided 22 Apaches, 15 Chinook helicopters, 12 P-8 Poseidon and 11 C-17s to India. We’ve got 254 commercial aircraft in operation with Indian carriers as well.

Obviously, our ambition is to grow that number. And all of that has required and will require further employment of Indians and the support of companies that we have in the maintenance and support of those platforms. So, we are confident — in fact, Dave Calhoun, CEO of the company, told me and other members of the executive team that he has a very high priority on India and further investment.

Additionally, we would be willing to discuss with the Indian government any potential need for weapon systems. Similarly, autonomous vehicles, whether they are for the commercial sector or the defence sector, is an area where we have an extensive range of products that we think would be of interest to India.


Government, through PLI scheme, has been attempting to encourage international companies to set up manufacturing in the country. Your views?

Today, we have 5,000 employees in India, which is the largest footprint outside the US. Going forward, there will be more investment, recruitment of Indian support and suppliers — it is a part of our commitment to India and a part of our support for Prime Minister Modi’s vision of Make in India. 

In my view, Boeing feels confident about India and its future. The growth in the commercial aviation market will require about 100,000 people and a company like ours needs to invest further in supply chains, skills and training to support aircraft that we hope to sell to Indian carriers.


Air India and Akasa are looking to scale up their fleet. How are you seeing the receptivity in the Indian market, specifically with the Tatas?

We obviously speak to all our customers. While I can’t speak specifically about meeting the Tatas or any of the others, all I can say is that the Tatas buying Air India is good for the Tatas, Air India and the manufacturers of aircraft. But more importantly, it’s good for India as its national carrier is now in the hands of a company that has a track record of success and of doing it ethically and in a way that makes India proud.

On newer players, Boeing commercial aircraft works with all the customers. Of course, we work very hard to promote our products and our aircraft and help them through our financing arm.