Developing indigenous regional airliners
It was a déjà vu kind of situation when, ten years after the policy statement was first made, the Government of India once again urged the national aviation industry to work on developing civil airliners. In 1996, HD Deve Gowda, then Prime Minister, had directed HAL to do so, specifying two categories, 50 – and 100-seaters. Neither programmes proceeded and inspite of an agreement with ATR, not a single step was taken to licence build this aircraft in India. Instead, well over one hundred ATR-42s and 72s were imported by the national airlines which today are flying in various colours ! As for the 100-seater, this made no headway at all and the fantastic opportunity in 2003 for acquiring the futuristic FairchildDornier 728 and 928 programmes at virtually give away prices, was spurned ( see related item). Now Indian industry wants to re-invent the wheel.
As then reported, “the entire brains trust of Indian aviation – scientists, developers and operators – met at the office of the Minister for Defence on 23 September 2008 to initiate an ambitious project to manufacture civil regional aircraft. The mission would be to develop a cheap, rugged and easy to maintain 70 to 110-seater civilian aircraft that should start rolling out within a decade.” However, there was no clarification on aspects such as work share, funding and whether the aircraft would be turboprop or turbofan powered. It was too early for these details. Instead, “The team entrusted with such task will soon come back with a detailed project report.”
The period from development to certification was estimated (ambitiously) to take some six years. “In case the project is successful, India will join a select group of companies manufacturing 70 to 100seat jets. Companies currently producing regional airlines of the same category are Embraer, Bombardier, Mitsubishi, Sukhoi and AVIC of China.”
The ‘ roll call’ of those personalities present at the meeting indicated the Government’s seriousness in pursuing the proposal whose development cost had been pegged at Rs 4,000 crore. Those at the session included Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Defence Secretary, Civil Aviation Secretary, CSIR Director General, Space Commission Chairman, Director National Aerospace Laboratories, Director Aeronautical Development Agency, Chairman HAL and representatives from the DRDO – as also Air India. The meeting concluded with the statement 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, this programme was to reduce import dependence to a considerable degree. “It is estimated that India will require over 1,200 such 70-100-seater aircraft by 2026.”
So what happened?