Bangalore: Facing tough competition, designers at the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) are mulling over a change in the configuration of the so-called regional transport aircraft (RTA) they plan to build to run on short-haul feeder routes.
The RTA was envisaged as a 70-90 seat civilian aircraft powered by a turboprop engine—a gas turbine engine used to drive a propeller.
But NAL is now thinking of using a jet engine as well and increasing its capacity to 90-110 passengers.
“We are looking at an aircraft (where) both turboprop and turbojet can be used,” said Samir Brahmachari,director general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), India’s largest public-funded research agency. NAL is the CSIRlab for aerospace technologies.
A 15-member committee for national civil aircraft development held its first meeting in Bangalore on Thursday, and set a one-year deadline for a feasibility study for the Rs2,500 crore plane project.
This will then be submitted to the government for approval. Developing and certifying the aircraft will take another six years after that.
Flight plan: CSIR director general Samir Brahmachari. A 15-member panel has set a one-year deadline for a feasibility study for the project. Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Planes made by Brazil’s Embraer and Canada’s Bombardier Inc. currently dominate such routes.
While the Indian project is yet to get off the ground, Russia’s Sukhoi Co. and China’s China Aviation Industry Corp. are also building similar aircraft.
V. Sumantran, who will be part of a two-member panel to attract private partners for the project in its design phase, said India was not too late to move.
“There is going to be tremendous competition. I suppose people would have asked the Tatas this when they started building the Indica (car). Is it too late to build an Indica now? Now the answer is, it created a company with global scale in the auto industry,” said Sumantran, vice-chairman at Hinduja Automotive Ltd, who led the development of Indica at Tata Motors Ltd.
His partner on the panel will be Arun Firodia, chairman of Pune-based Kinetic Engineering Ltd. A tender will be floated to invite private participation.
Besides NAL, India’s military plane maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) will also participate in this public-private partnership.
“To start with, we will have 100 people,” said G. Madhavan Nair, chairman of the research council of NAL. “When the project is peaking, at least 500 people will be directly needed. About 1,000-2,000 people from various industries will be participating.”
While public sector firms have built helicopters, trainer aircraft, fighter jet and two passenger planes, the expertise is still lacking in India’s private sector.
companies such as the Tata group, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd, Larsen and Toubro Ltd and Godrej Industries Ltd are building capabilities in the aerospace industry, partly to meet local demands and partly to serve global companies such as Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS, which are looking at a low-cost manufacturing and design base.
Currently, only the Mahindras have the capability to build aeroplanes through their acquisition of two Australian aerospace firms in December.