India puts civil aircraft plan back on runway

Written by Huma Siddiqui | Subhash Narayan | New Delhi | Updated: Apr 16 2014, 18:50pm hrs
HALUndeterred by the earlier failure of Saras, India has set in motion plans to build its first indigenous civilian aircraft. Saras, a locally made 14-seater plane that took over two decades to develop, is yet to win local certification. (AP)
Undeterred by the earlier failure of Saras, India has set in motion plans to build its first indigenous civilian aircraft. Saras, a locally made 14-seater plane that took over two decades to develop, is yet to win local certification.

Hindustan Aeronautics, the country's sole maker of military aircraft, is forming a 50:50 special purpose vehicle with state-owned plane designer National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) to design and develop a turboprop aircraft, capable of carrying 70-10 people, by 2020.

We are forming a SPV with a paid-up capital of Rs 20 crore and authorised capital of Rs 30 crore to develop the country's first locally made transport aircraft. The HAL board has already given approval for the formation of SPV and the nod from NAL board of directors is expected by the end of the month, said a top HAL official.

The total project cost is expected to be in the region of Rs 7,500 crore and the SPV may rope in more public and private sector companies such as Tata Technologies, Samtel Avionics (provider of cockpit avionics), Taneja Aerospace as equity partners in the project at later stages of the development programme.

"We hope India will see its own regional transport aircraft by 2020 if subsequent government approvals for R&D and development phases are granted in the current calendar year," the official said.

It is expected that the venture would take off soon after the formation of the new government at the Centre. The proposal would also need approval from the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council (NMCC) that is studying the regional aircraft plan and would finalise the number of seats and the type of engine that would be used in the aircraft.

"The most important component of the project is the engine and we have received responses from seven major engine companies, including the French Snecma, Pratt & Whitney, General Electric to our request for information (RFI). In the next three months, we are going to make a presentation to the government through NMCC and are hoping for a favourable response, HAL chairman R K Tyagi told FE.

Indigenous development of a national transport aircraft is part of the government's initiative to give a boost to manufacturing activity. Last year Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approved a plan to develop a 70 to 100-seater aircraft.

According to a Boeing estimate, India will require close to 1,500 planes with 80-100 seating capacity in the next 20 years to catch up with the rising demand for air travel.

Besides, the aircraft development plan will help the country reduce its dependance on companies such as Bombardier and Embraer SA for expensive aircraft.

Indias plan to develop a national aircraft comes after limited success in an earlier attempt by NAL on Saras.

The aircraft not only crashed during one of its test flight but is yet to get local certification even though over 23 years have been spent on the project.

Even country's military aircraft development programme suffered setbacks and HAL is yet to commence deliveries of the light combat aircraft, Tejas, which uses a General Electric engine.

The programme was approved in1983.