India begins feasibility study on 90-seater civilian aircraft

Bangalore, May 27 (IANS) India began a feasibility study to design and develop an indigenous 90-seater civilian plane to fly on feeder and trunk routes, a top official of the national civil aircraft development project said Thursday.

‘The first meeting of the high power committee for the national civil aircraft development project has decided to go for a 90-seater configuration, with an option for a 70-seater shorter version,’ committee chairman G. Madhavan Nair told IANS here.

The state-run Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) May 7 constituted the 15-member high-power committee to launch the national civil aircraft development project.

The mega project will be led by CSIR, with its National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) as the nodal agency and the feasibility report will be submitted to the union government in a year for consideration and approval.

Design and development of the prototype is estimated to cost about Rs.5,000 crore (Rs.50 billion) and is expected to be ready by 2015-16 for flight trials.

The project committee has decided to form nine sub-committees to prepare reports on various parameters such as choice of engine, composite materials, avionics, landing gear, control systems, short haul runways, setting up of design bureau, hiring people, engaging the industry and infrastructure required for operating the regional transport aircraft service.

‘Choice of the engine – propeller or turboprop version will be an important parameter to meet the requirement of short runways and fuel efficiency. The sub-committee on it has been asked to prepare a report in three months,’ said Nair, former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Based on the sub-committee reports, the entire configuration will be finalised and technologies will be identified for absorbing directly into the aircraft.

‘There are common technologies to be developed. We have asked the sub-committees to identify the technologies available for use and develop those required for the prototype,’ Nair noted.

The project activities will be fully defined during the course of the year and the feasibility study will contain not only the technical specifications, but also the resources required in terms of facilities, tooling and human resources required.

‘Initially, we will hire about 100 highly qualified people within the country and those Indians working abroad for the design bureau that will be set up at NAL,’ Nair said.

As trained people in the aerospace area are limited, the committee will rope in design experts from the state-run organisations such as Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and ISRO to share some of the project workload.

When the project peaks up, about 500 people will be involved from the various state-run agencies and about 2,000 people from the industry

The study will also explore the need to go in for a public-private partnership at the beginning so as to involve the Indian aerospace industry, which will be responsible for production at a later stage and marketing and servicing subsequently.

‘We are going to call for an expression of interest from the industrial groups in the country. And based on their interest, we will try to select partners who will work with us in the development phase. As there is good understanding of aerodynamics and configuration, we should be able to speed up the development pace of the project,’ Nair said.

The committee hopes the prototype will be rolled out in the next five-six years for flight testing and certification for initial operational clearance. By then, it plans to have production facility in place with the industry.

‘The regional transport aircraft for feeder service has to be fuel efficient, light, with high-tech electronics, able to take-off and land on short runways for short hauls, have minimum carbon footprint and should be comfortable with low noise,’ CSIR director-general Samir K. Brahmchari said.

Besides, Nair and Brahmchari, ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan, DRDO chairman V.K. Saraswat, NAL director A.R. Upadhyaya, HAL chairman Ashok Nayak, Space Commission member Roddam Narasimha, Hinduja Automotive vice-chairman V. Sumantran and Kinetic Engineering director Arun Firodia participated in the day-long meeting at NAL as members of the high powered committee.