Sandeep Dikshit

NEW DELHI: The entire brains trust of Indian aviation – scientists, developers and operators – met here on Tuesday to initiate an ambitious project to manufacture civil regional aircraft. The mission would be to make a cheap, rugged and easy to maintain 70 to 110-seater civilian aircraft that should start rolling out within a decade.

The programme will be the third-prong of India’s quest to become self-sufficient in making fixed wing aircraft. The other two programmes relate to the next generation fighter aircraft and military transport plane for which India has tied up with Russia. Alexsei Fedorov, chief of United Aircraft Corporation, the umbrella company of Russia’s aviation industry, is arriving here towards the end of this month to finalise plans in this regard.

“We are shortly going to send a spacecraft to the Moon and we are still importing civil aircraft. India has all the capabilities and we must make them a reality,” said Defence Minister A. K. Antony who chaired the meeting.

As The Hindu reported on Monday, the Government is yet to decide on aspects such as work share, funding, and whether the aircraft will have a turbo-prop or turbo jet engine. “It is too early for these details. The team entrusted with the task will soon come back with a detailed project report,” said sources.

The time from development to certification is estimated at six years. The plane should roll off four to six years after the certification. In case the project is successful India will join a select group of companies manufacturing 70 to 110-seater jets with a range of 3,000 km. Companies currently making such planes are Embraer, Bombardier, Mitsubishi, Sukhoi and AVIC of China.

The roll call of those present at the meeting indicates the government’s seriousness in pursuing the proposal whose development cost has been pegged at Rs. 4,000 crore.

Those at the brainstorming session included Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister T. K. A. Nair, Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, Civil Aviation Secretary M. Nambiar, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Director General Samir Brahmachari, Space Commission Chairman Madhavan Nair, National Aerospace Laboratories’ Kota Harinarayana and A. R. Upadhyaya, Aeronautical Development Agency Director P. S. Subramaniam, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Chairman Ashok Baweja and representatives of Defence Research & Development Organisation and Air India.

The meeting concluded that India has the technical base as also the resources to develop an aircraft of this size for both domestic and international markets.

To be called the “Indian Regional Transport Aircraft,” it will reduce import dependence to a considerable degree. India estimates that it will require over 1,200 of 70-110 seater aircraft by 2026. Most members at the meeting felt the environmental performance of the aircraft in terms of noise and carbon emission will be the main criteria for it to make a dent in the international market.

The HAL will play the lead role while the Ministry of Defence will supervise the project.