Indigenously manufactured Indian Air Force Dhruv helicopters perform aerobatic manoeuvres on the inaugural day of Aero India 2019 at Yelahanka air base in Bengaluru. Image Credit: AP

New Delhi: The majority of India’s homemade military helicopter fleet has been grounded for safety checks after a chopper crashed last week.

The over 250-strong fleet of twin-engine Advanced Light Helicopters manufactured by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited - used extensively by all three services - stopped flying soon after March 8, when a naval chopper crashed into the Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai.

“We are trying to get the helicopters operational as early as possible,” HAL spokesperson Gopal Sutar said without giving any other details.

“The helicopter faced a sudden loss of power and rapid loss of height,” India’s navy said in a statement after the accident and said an inquiry was underway.

The probe will look at design and material fatigue issues, among other things, because previous accidents involving the helicopter also involved unexplained loss of power in flight, two officials said, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence did not comment on the grounding of the helicopters.

The government has banned the import of over 700 items for the military, including helicopters, to boost local industry and is aggressively pushing defence exports that include the Advanced Light Helicopters.

India exported 134 billion rupees ($1.62 billion) of defence equipment last year - a 20% jump from the same period five years ago, according to government data.

India is aggressively showcasing the helicopters to potential buyers. Last January, HAL concluded a contract to sell one chopper to Mauritius for $17.6 million.

Grounding an entire fleet after an accident is routine procedure. This type of helicopter was grounded in 2006, and again in 2014, after a fatal crash that left seven crew members dead. In October 2019, a senior military commander and eight others were injured when the same type of chopper crashed following a sudden loss of power in flight.

The twin-engine helicopters have been flying for two decades and are used for both defensive and offensive roles, making them the backbone of India’s military chopper fleet.