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Aviation regulatory probe report seeks design changes in Saras

Aviation regulatory probe report seeks design changes in Saras

Bangalore/New Delhi: Finding fault with the management of the country’s first civil aeroplane project Saras, India’s aviation regulator has recommended key design changes to the 14-seater plane.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), in a probe report on the crash of a Saras prototype during a test flight in March 2009, has asked the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), the agency developing the aircraft, to not employ private contractors in designing the plane.

In the report, reviewed by Mint, DGCA has suggested that NAL consult other aircraft makers for flight trials.

Implementing DGCA’s recommendations and getting them certified could delay the Saras project by another two years, said an NAL official, who did not want to be named.

The aircraft was to be certified this year.

The regulator has said private contractors be engaged only for supplying parts and appliances. “The contracting system followed by NAL is to be reviewed by competent authority," it said in its report.

NAL is the aerospace arm of India’s biggest public research agency, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). NAL director A.R. Upadhya said he had not seen the DGCA report.

“We’ve asked for the report," he said. “Whatever are the DGCA recommendations, we will study and implement it."

A top government official familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the report has been approved by the civil aviation ministry and it would be made public soon.

Despite the huge growth in India’s civil aviation sector, airlines and chartered plane operators own or run planes built by companies such as Boeing Co. and Franco-Italian plane maker ATR, as local aircraft development and manufacturing is yet to take off.

NAL, the only design house for passenger aircraft in India, has built a two-seat trainer called Hansa, sold to flying clubs to train pilots, and Saras, for use by feeder airlines for short-haul routes. But since last year’s crash, the Saras project has been suspended.

Two Saras prototypes have been built so far. NAL has asked Rs35 crore from CSIR to build another plane to replace the one that crashed, the NAL official mentioned earlier said.

Analysts say India should learn from the crash and build a new plane faster.

“A lot depends on this project in the development of indigenous aircraft," said retired air marshal T.J. Master, chairman of Master Aerospace Consultants Pvt. Ltd. “If we cannot handle the Saras, how are we going to handle the bigger aircraft projects that are planned?"

NAL is designing a regional transport aircraft—RTA-70—to carry 70-90 passengers on short-haul routes, India’s ambitious attempt to build a civilian plane and bridge the gap in aeronautical expertise with China and Brazil. The Rs2,500 crore project, to be built on a public-private partnership, is yet to get the government’s nod, but has the Planning Commission’s approval.

The Saras programme was conceived in the 1990s as an Indo-Russian joint collaboration. It became an indigenous plane project with defence aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd after Russia backed out in 1995 due to financial constraints.

Since then, the Rs139 crore programme has been hit by delays due to design flaws and non-availability of foreign components on account of US sanctions following the 1998 nuclear tests.


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