Bangalore: National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) is in talks with Pratt and Whitney of Canada to co-develop an India-specific engine for a 90-seat plane being designed in the country that could compete with planes of French-Italian aircraft maker Avions de Transport Régional (ATR).
NAL, the aerospace research lab of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), wants a fuel-efficient turboprop engine from Pratt and Whitney, owned by US conglomerate United Technologies Corp, to power the aircraft designed to fly on short-haul routes. The 14-seat Saras plane under development by NAL is powered by Pratt and Whitney engines.
“The technical discussions are on. They already have (similar type of) engines flying in other planes,” said Kota Harinarayana, the Raja Ramanna fellow at NAL, who is spearheading the project. A turboprop is a gas turbine engine used to drive a propeller.
Pratt and Whitney engines power the turboprop family of 50-74 seater planes of ATR, the equal joint venture between Alenia Aeronautica and European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. A Pratt and Whitney spokesman in Canada did not respond to emails and calls for comment.
India’s aerospace industry has designed and built civilian planes such as Hansa and Saras and military planes such as an intermediate jet trainer and Tejas, a light combat aircraft, but these are powered by engines made by foreign firms such as Pratt and Whitney and General Electric Co., or GE.
It has had limited success in developing engines, a segment dominated by a handful of players such as GE, Safran Group of France, Pratt and Whitney, Rolls Royce Plc., Honeywell Inc. and NPO Saturn of Russia. The PTAE-7 small engine for Lakshya, the pilotless target aircraft built by military plane maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is the only success of India in aero-engine development. After two decades of working on the Kaveri engine for the Tejas fighter, the Gas Turbine and Research Establishment, a unit of the defence research agency, is looking for foreign partners to build the power plant.
“Engine technology is the most complex in aeronautics. We are years behind in it,” said an HAL official, who has worked in the engine division of the firm but did not want to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
NAL wants to sign an engine partner right from the start of the programme to ensure long-term committment and maintain costs, said Harinarayana. NAL will build a digital concept plane of the regional transport aircraft, or RTA 70, in around two years, followed by a flying prototype in four years.