‘The aircraft will be designed and developed around the engine’

Military aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, which is piloting the national programme to develop a 70- to 100-seater made-in-India passenger plane for travel within the country, has kicked off the initiative with a global quest for a suitable engine for the plane.

A request for information (RFI) put out in late December invites a handful of global aero engine manufacturers to provide technical and cost details of a fuel-efficient ‘integrated propulsion system’ for a new, twin-engine Indian aircraft. HAL’s Bangalore-based Aero Engine Research & Design Centre, which has put out the RFI, has sought responses by February 14.

The absence of an indigenously developed civil aircraft has long been considered a void in a country that has an expanding market of air travellers. The latest move is expected to fuse and cap 30 years of attempts to produce an Indian Embraer or a Bombardier for regional transport.

According to HAL chairman R.K. Tyagi, the plan of starting with the engine RFI marks a new approach, that of designing and developing an indigenous passenger aircraft around the engine. “By this, we are sure of getting there; it simplifies the design effort and shortens the development cycle,” he told The Hindu on Monday.

In six years

“We are looking at developing the plane in six years. For now, after six months, we should have zeroed in on a suitable aero engine, identified tier 1 and tier 2 industry partners to work on it, and put up a comprehensive aircraft development plan for the government,” he said.

The size of the aircraft would depend on the outcome of a market survey, the response from engine manufacturers and the capability of the local industry. Earlier estimates put the plane development cost at around Rs. 8,000 crore.

A yet to be formed special purpose company between HAL, a company under the Ministry of Defence, and the CSIR’s National Aerospace Laboratories under the Department of Science & Technology, is to spearhead the programme. A steering committee named by the Prime Minister and led by former bureaucrat V. Krishnamurthy suggested this model last September.

Dr. Tyagi said that after receiving all formal approvals, the two nodal agencies would pool an initial Rs. 10 crore each into the new company “and generate a viable plan” on building the aircraft.

Meanwhile, teams of both the agencies, which have a rich pool of designers, have started preliminary joint activities.

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