Bangalore/New Delhi: Russian experts will help make key design changes to India’s first home-made civil aircraft, Saras, the development of which was suspended after a fatal crash last year.

A team from Russian government-run civil aircraft maker Myasishchev Design Bureau (MDB) is at the campus of the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) to assist Indian designers on the project.

It was MDB that first built and flew the small turboprop aircraft in the 1990s. It had to wind up the project as it couldn’t raise funds to sustain it. MDB later tied up with NAL to build Saras, but walked out of the project in 1998 in the midst of a financial crisis—leaving it in Indian hands.

“It has come full circle," said A.K. Saxena, managing director of Navv Avia Technologies Pvt. Ltd. “If the joint venture was a success, we would have hundreds of aircraft flying by now."

Saxena was part of the team that began the project as an executive of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

NAL built two prototypes of Saras, a 14-seat multi-purpose aircraft to connect feeder routes. One of them crashed in March 2009, killing three and forcing the lab to suspend its development.

Taking wing: A team from Russian government-run civil aircraft maker Myasishchev Design Bureau is in India to assist local designers under the Indo-Russian integrated long term programme of cooperation. Hemant Mishra/Mint

Since the crash, NAL has sought an additional Rs40 crore to build a new aircraft.

It also set up a panel headed by V.K. Aatre, professor emeritus at the Indian Institute of Science and a former head of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, to study the DGCA report and help implement it.

India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, under which NAL operates, began talking to MDB last year under the Indo-Russian integrated long term programme of cooperation in science and technology.

A Russian team visited India in January, but a pact was signed this month after DGCA submitted its report on the crash.

“Russia has better expertise than NAL. This (Saras) was basically taken from the Russian design," said a DGCA official, who didn’t want to be named.

NAL director A.R. Upadhya said Russian experts will help speed up flight development and certification. “They will advise us on our flight testing, help in niggling design issues like flight controls."

“We have done wind tunnel tests and found some solutions. It will be reviewed by them and they may make some suggestions," he said.

India’s aerospace industry is still nascent, despite airlines buying hundreds of passenger planes to cater to the rising demand for air travel. The country’s military aerospace industry has built a helicopter, a trainer and fighter jet on its own.

The Russian help comes at a time when NAL is also working on a larger 70-seat plane called the regional transport aircraft, or RTA-70.

A panel headed by G. Madhavan Nair, chairman of the research council of NAL, and other top designers will meet in Bangalore on 27 May to draw a strategy for the project.

The aircraft, which India aims will help bridge the gap in civil aerospace technologies with China and Brazil, will be built as a public-private partnership.