On February 13, Air India announced that it was planning to purchase 470 passenger aircraft from the two global giants, French Airbus and American Boeing.

While all three companies involved in the deal are private corporations, it was discussed by the presidents of the US and France and the prime ministers of India and the UK.

Given that it is such a big deal, why not Make-in-India it, especially when the sector is predicted to grow "historically"? Did the government of India not push for the aircraft manufacturers to setup their bases in India, as they're encouraging in many other industries such as automobile, railways, etc.?

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    It would be more expensive and lead to long delays if factories were to be built and staff to be trained first. Economics of scale says it's more profitable to concentrate related businesses instead of spreading them out. Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 6:55
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    @Trilarion: well, both Airbus and Boeing have assembly factories in China. The former since 2008 or so (and made some 500 Airbus 320 and 321 to date, IIRC), the latter--Boeing--since 2018. I'm sure there are some factors to discuss here, including the locally designed C919 competition, size of Chinese vs Indian market etc. Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 11:38
  • @downvoters: Please explain?
    – whoisit
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 13:19
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    I'm not a downvoter, but the question is a bit naive. Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 15:45
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    If India is smart, it will invest its limited Made-in-India monies in industries that have a high economic multiplier, and do so only in areas where the investment is highly likely to be successful and where the payoff from the investment will happen sooner rather than later. While building large commercial airliners supposedly has a high economic multiplier, the odds of success are very slim, and the payback, if any, would happen decades in the future. Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 5:59

5 Answers 5


Well, unless the Indian journalists get more inquisitive and more directly ask their government this, we're left with educated guesses.

But some facts are that India is still a market 4.5 times smaller than China in terms of airliners. And China is pretty much the only place in Asia where Airbus and Boeing have seen fit to open local assembly factories for their (narrowbody) airliners. (Airbus in Tianjin in 2008, Boeing much more recently in 2018. Also, Airbus assembled some 5-600 planes there. The scope of the Boeing plant in China seems to be more limited to "finishing work".) China also has more of a domestic competition with the Comac C919 and ARJ21, so that may have played a role in those Western decisions as well. (Despite Airbus' local presence having been established a decade earlier, they didn't significantly outpace Boeing in the Chinese market until 2019. And the Chinese press is making it no secret that the US-China trade war had something to do with the latter event. Also, China is apparently aiming to have their C919 grab 10% of the local market by 2025.)

[Tata] India did strike a deal with Airbus in late 2022 to locally manufacture the smaller and military-oriented C295, and only about 50 pieces or so, but that jet also has some civilian certifications, as I understand, so an Indian company will probably gain useful experience. At least, the deal was touted by the Indian side as a "unique opportunity for the Indian private sector to enter into technology intensive and highly competitive aviation industry". If that (BBC) story is not mistaken, it's also going to be the largest aircraft manufactured in India, to date. (For comparison, the C295 is about 25 meters long, the A320 about 37 meters.) In the past, India's HAL built some 89 HS 748 under license; most were for military use, but some went into civilian service. These aircraft are approximately 20 meters long.

Embraer, which is the 3rd manufacturer worldwide, is based in Brazil. Their trajectory in terms of products is fairly informative as well, i.e. took them decades to graduate to their E-series narrow body airliners. Neither Russia nor Japan have fared too well in the past couple of decades. The new Sukhoi airliners have only become really attractive after the sudden decoupling from the West due to the war, or at least after 2014 if you want to be more charitable. Japan did even worse, as I understand, as they seem to have essentially shut down theirs (despite their Canadian purchase--well, that deal was complicated, the CRJ line/designs was sold to Mitsubishi, which seems to have done nothing with it, but the Canadian factory to Airbus, which now makes A220s there. Mitsubishi's own SpaceJet line was also cancelled.) Somewhat similarly to India, Japan managed to build a 26 meter indigenous turboprop but this also saw mostly military service, and is being retired.

The state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is apparently working on a new regional airliner though, of indigenous design, although in keeping with HAL's engine expertise to date (they make licensed Honeywell TPE331), it appears it's going to be a turboprop, at least initially, albeit a slightly larger one (28.6 meters long) than the C295. Planned first flight seems to be for 2025-26. Suspiciously absent are any [announced] commitments to buy it though, even in the most recent news I found about it.

When Modi discussed/announced that C295 deal, he was also quoted saying

I also see the days coming when larger passenger planes for the world will also be made in India.

So I guess we can tentatively conclude that the timing of the larger order precluded more Indian manufacturing deals beforehand (if they were even possible). Also, as I understand several Indian airlines are struggling economically, so keeping them afloat and jumpstarting large-scale domestic production at the same would require substantial budgetary commitments. Sometimes economic realities trump political desiderata. This perhaps bears some similarity to what happened to when the Berlusconi-salvaged Italian airlines announced plans to buy Sukhoi airliners (around 2010), but eventually these were swapped for Embraers, because the former were taking too long to materialize. (Modi seems to have avoided that kind of pie-in-the-face by not making more definitive statements than the one I quoted above.)


Manufacturing large commercial airliners would not be anywhere close to a good industry in which a country with zero foothold in that industry should invest the country's tax dollars aiming for growth. Airbus and Boeing have a near total lock on the industry, and there are up and coming wannabes in China, Japan, and Russia who already have a head start on a complete newbie. India would be a complete newbie here.

Large commercial airliner manufacturing involves a huge amount of intellectual property, a huge manufacturing capability, and a huge supply chain. India could get in on the game quickly by endeavoring to become a part of Airbus's or Boeing's supply chain. However, trying to be a newbie competitor with Airbus and Boeing for manufacturing large commercial airliners is problematic.

Becoming a competitor with Airbus and Boeing will require decades of investment. While India could invest its money in growing that field in India, it will not reap the benefit of that investment for decades, and the endeavor has a high probability of failure. The contracts with Airbus and Boeing are the only way Air India can move forward for now and for the next several decades. It is probably better for India to endeavor to grow its manufacturing capabilities in other fields.

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    If India wants to jump into the fray in this field, I suspect it will be at least a decade, and more likely two decades or even more before the first made-in-India large commercial airliner gets its first test flight. And then it's several more years before countries accept the reliability of that made-in-India airliner. What is Air India to do until then? I can't think of a harder nut to crack than trying to break into the large commercial airliner field. Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 12:16
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    ... China, Japan, and Russia who already have a head start on a complete newbie Brazil does, too.
    – Just Me
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 12:24
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    @JustMe I thought of listing Brazil but decided against it. Embraer manufactures smaller airplanes. Nice ones, but not big huge commercial airliners. China, Japan, and Russia are trying to build huge airliners that would directly complete with Airbus and Boeing. Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 14:05
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    Bombardier's experience seems relevant, too: "In July 2018, Airbus acquired a 50.01% stake in the CSeries for one Canadian dollar, with an option to acquire the remaining interest by 2024." Bombardier spent the decades you mention creating a business to build at least smaller airliners (larger than regional jets), yet still had to give up.
    – Just Me
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 14:18
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    @whoisit: that would require Airbus or Boeing to upset other countries where their manufacturing is currently done, by moving it to India. This manufacturing is already very politicised, and making that more complicated by setting up factories in India would not be attractive for either company. If there were factories in India that could start production now, matters might be different. However, there aren't, and setting them up would take at least a decade. Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 13:37

The final assembly line of Airbus A320 employs 1000 workers that likely must be qualified for the role. It is described here. It is not clear how much does the line itself costs, but, money permitting, why not? Send students to learn how to make the aircraft and start building the plant.

For now, Airbus assembles the aircraft in either Toulouse, France; Hamburg, Germany; or Seville, Spain. Parts come there from all over the Europe where they are manufactured.

But this is a final assembly line only. The components to assemble still must be purchased in Europe. Beluga can fly to India then, why not?

This does not look very impossible but needs lots of money, time and organising work. Airbus may refuse to sell parts only. Beluga may not be properly certified to fly till India. Right working culture may need time to develop. First aircraft may not be as good as made in Europe. So lots of challenge, maybe better to start from something simpler.


Bombardier, besides building planes, also builds trains. Though I didn't find an article, I remember reading that Bombardier's profitability has in general been hurt by its tendency to build bespoke local train factories to win contracts.

Specifically with regards to India: 2010 article - Bombardier's rough passage to India - The Globe and Mail

It is here that Bombardier Canada's global transportation giant, has been literally stopped in its tracks by India's infamous government bureaucracy.

The company has spent more than $45-million building a new train factory that has created 750 desperately needed jobs. Despite the investment, Bombardier has been stymied in its request to use a 300-metre section of the local railway to deliver new subway cars to its customer in New Delhi, 800 kilometres to the northeast.

Also, it seems relevant to cite this from the Q's own link:

Make in India has not yet achieved its goals. The growth rate of manufacturing averaged 6.9% per annum between 2014–15 and 2019–20.[16] The share of manufacturing dropped from 16.3% of GDP in 2014–15 to 14.3% in 2020–21.[16]

  • India has changed a lot after 2010. Alstom, Foxconn, Apple, etc have since set up their manufacturing bases here. And yeah it is true that Make in India has not achieved it goals, but that's a result of some phenomenon, which might also be responsible for this.
    – whoisit
    Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 6:02

We weren't present at the negotiations but it seems quite possible to me that India did in fact ask for a Make-in-India offer and either Boing and Airbus just said no or more likely said that with Make-in-India the delivery of the airplanes will take x years longer and be y dollars more expensive and on hearing these numbers the Indian government decided not to pursue Make-in-India.

The other answers explain well why x and y would probably be quite significant numbers and why the Indian government couldn't simply have replied with building the aircrafts on their own.

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