Defence

Suresh Prabhu Roots For Indigenous Civil Aircraft

By Indian Defence News

Former civil aviation minister Suresh Prabhu had in early 2019 announced that India would roll out a road map for manufacturing aircraft in the domestic market, and was open to join hands with top global players.

For quarter of a century, India has been working towards indigenously manufacturing passenger aircraft with little or no success despite the country’s large aviation market.

This ambition once again got a boost in February this year when Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) received a modification document of its manufactured 19-seater multipurpose light transport Dornier-228 (upgraded) civil aircraft from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for UDAN scheme. The aircraft is currently being used by the defence forces. Recently, the aviation regulator gave ‘certificate of airworthiness’ to this aircraft paving the way for its civil use.

India is home to the world’s ninth largest $16-billion civil aviation market. Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing the joint Indo-US business conclave in July last year had said India needs at least 1,000 medium-capacity aircraft for regional air connectivity and invited investors to come forward. Before this, former civil aviation minister Suresh Prabhu had in early 2019 announced that India would roll out a road map for manufacturing aircraft in the domestic market, and was open to join hands with top global players. Aviation experts said the idea to produce local passenger aircraft has become all the more significant given the Centre’s thrust on local manufacturing with missions like Make-in-India and Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

However, a former DGCA official said the main issue is that the country till date does not have a design for any narrow-body or medium range turboprop except the Dornier aircraft. “Manufacturing of an aircraft is a later stage, firstly we need to come up with a prototype. Take the design approval from DGCA, build the prototype, get it certified and then start manufacturing,” he said. “Cost is also a major issue as each Dornier 2 certified aircraft (of HAL) came up at a massive cost of ₹55-crore, an amount in which a scheduled or non-scheduled operator can bring in three aircraft,” the official said.

Moreover, HAL-produced aircraft was unpressurised which means it had height restrictions for flying. “So even if the aircraft performance is good and it is fuel-efficient, there would be issues in case the aircraft has to fly over hilly terrains. These were its drawbacks. Hence we need pressurized aircraft to start with 70-90 seater turboprop followed by Jet.”

Even as a section of experts say this is the best time for the country to take a plunge and realise its long-cherished dream of having its aircraft, another section is of the view that the plan will not pay-off unless India achieves critical mass for such a high-capital intensive industry.

“It (domestic manufacturing of aircraft) is a great idea but there are numerous challenges. It is important to build the Indian civilian aerospace industry by removing a large number of entry barriers which are a big challenge,” said Dhiraj Mathur, former partner at PwC, a global consultancy firm. “We have tried to manufacture these planes. Various efforts have been made over a period of time by NAL or National Aerospace Laboratory (to make a passenger plane) but the attempts have not been successful as designing and manufacturing aircraft is not easy.”

Story of India’s Indigenous Aircraft Development

The idea of giving a thrust on aircraft development in the country was mooted by former President late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam during his association with the premier Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

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