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India’s Civil Aircraft Dream All Set To Take Off

Updated: November 26, 2011 11:04 am

Had India started programme of this kind two-three decades ago, it would have been a world leader now. There would have been most probably a global company out of India of the scale of Embraer of Brazil. But then priorities were different While India focused on the space field satellites and launch vehicles—Brazil put its energy and resources behind the area of aircraft.

And the results are for everybody to see. India is today a force to reckon with in the space sector; Brazil has earned a name for itself in regional aircraft segment, with Embraer leading the way.

India now needs to do the catch-up act. A feasibility study has been done at Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-National Aerospace Laboratory (CSIR-NAL), Bengaluru for National Civil Aircraft Development (NCAD) Programme.

A sum of Rs 7,555 crore is estimated requirement out of which Rs 4,355 crore is for design and development and Rs 3,200 crore for series production phase. The Programme has two phases: design and development, and manufacturing. It is anticipated that industry in the private sector will be involved in both the phases.

The Planning Commission has recommended that CSIR could move a Cabinet Note for in-principle approval of the programme. A cabinet approval is round the corner.

Air travel in the country has been growing at a very fast rate and the forecasts indicate that there is a growing demand for civil aircraft in the country. Considering that the nation has achieved self-reliance in many fields of activities related to space, defence and atomic energy, it was felt appropriate that a major thrust is given for building up indigenous capability in design and development of a civil transport aircraft.

Such a programme will give a major boost to the aviation industries in the country and establish the credibility of the nation to develop and operationalise complex systems in the aviation area that are globally competitive.

Investments for the development of civil aircraft must however be tailored to market requirements of India, especially the need for low capital cost of the product, lower maintenance costs and lower fuel costs that will make it acceptable to Indian operators and those in other emerging markets. It is desirable that such a project be established under a joint venture with public private partnership.

With this view, the Government of India had constituted a High Powered Committee to review the requirements and prepare a project report for NCAD programme. The committee has already gone in the process of assessing the national needs for civil aircraft.

It has converged on a configuration that can bring in advanced technologies and lead to state-of-the art aircraft which can capture a major share of India’s regional air transportation requirements. In addition, the product has to be contemporary with the global systems available in 2015-20 timeframe so that a portion of international market can also be targeted.

NCAD has established a design bureau that is providing the seeding for civil aircraft design in the country. Initially, it has been created with experts and engineers from NAL, HAL, DRDO, ADA and ISRO. The structure is being augmented with hiring of specialists with experience in the field.

The High Powered Committee on National Civil Aircraft Development (HPC, NCAD) has been constituted for managing and evolving the development of the National Civil Aircraft project. This HPC with experts drawn from the government, industry, financial institutions, regulatory authority etc has formally overseen the feasibility studies, and it will structure a joint venture with Public Private Partnership (PPP) and evolve an organisational structure for a new entity.

Carrying out the feasibility study and associated activities has been designated as Preparatory Phase for launch of the project. At the end of this phase, as a part of the feasibility report, HPC-NCAD will also make recommendations towards Full Scale Engineering Development (FSED) of the aircraft involving detailed design, manufacturing, testing and certification leading to series production.

HPC-NCAD has set up an office with manpower drawn from existing design centres at CSIR-NAL, HAL, ADA, DRDO and ISRO and is also in the process of hiring from open market based on requirement on an urgent basis. This will include a core design group with seeding from CSIR-NAL, which will eventually be upgraded to a full-fledged Design Bureau.

High Powered Committee

The High Powered Committee consists of Dr G Madhavan Nair, Chairman, and former Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation; Prof Samir K Brahmachari, Co-Chairman and Director-General, CSIR and Secretary, DSIR; Dr K Radhakrishnan, Member and Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Chairman, Space Commission and Secretary, Department of Space; KM Chandrasekhar, Member and Cabinet Secretary; Dr VK Saraswat, Member and Scientific Adviser to Defence Minister, and Director General, DRDO and Secretary, Department of Defence R&D; M Madhavan Nambiar, Member and Secretary, Civil Aviation, Ministry of Civil Aviation; RP Singh, Member and Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion; Ashok Nayak, Member and Chairman, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited; Prof R Narasimha, Member and FCS, JNCASR; Prof Shekhar Chaudhuri, Member and Director, Indian Institute of Management Calcutta; M Damodaran, Member and Chairman, M/s. Damodaran Group; Dr Arun Firodia, Member, and Chairman, Kinetic Engineering Ltd. & Kinetic Motor Company Ltd; Dr V Sumantran, Member and Executive Vice President, Hinduja Automotive and Ms Vandana Srivastava, Member.

Terms of Reference of HPC, NCAD

Terms of Reference of HPC, NCAD are:To evolve a strategy for development of a civil aircraft indigenously;

As preparatory phase of the project, to complete a feasibility study to develop and manufacture a National Civil Aircraft and frame out broad design parameters;

The preparatory phase of the project will provide details on aircraft definition and performance, technologies and systems, manufacturing plan, investments required, ROI, risk analysis etc;

To discuss with Indian companies with a strong industrial base, financial strength and desired assets, who have an interest in such a programme;

To discuss with global OEMs the possibility of partnership for development/manufacture of such an aircraft in India;

As part of the project, help set up a core design group with seeding from CSIR-NAL which could subsequently be upgraded to a full-fledged Design Centre/Bureau;

To develop structure and identify partners as a SPV/JV company in PPP mode to carry out development of the National Civil Aircraft; and to provide the final report with recommendation, NAL will be responsible for undertaking the detailed engineering design for the new aircraft. NAL is in the process of expanding the design bureau which will address various engineering issues related to aircraft configuration, sub-system definition, test and qualification programmes. Besides the manpower for this being formed from experts and engineers drawn from NAL, HAL, ADA, DRDO and ISRO, there is a plan to absorb experienced people from outside as well as bright young engineers providing an opportunity to work with cutting edge technologies associated with aviation.

NAL, in fact, is more than doubling the size of the design bureau, tasked with development of an indigenous civil aircraft for regional connectivity, as the country’s ambitious programme gathers momentum.

The design bureau currently has a head-count of 80 engineers—a mix of domain experts drawn from Hindustan Aeronautics, Indian Space Research Organisation and NAL, among others, as well as young techies. This team has already undertaken preliminary design of the aircraft and prepared the project report.

Madhavan Nair, who chairs the HPC, recently said that a selection process was on to hire 100 more engineers, both freshers and experienced hands with domain knowledge—a move that has already elicited a good response.

The feasibility study conducted by HPC concluded that there is a market potential for 70 to 100 seat regional transport aircraft in India. The baseline design is a 90-seat twin turbofan engine-powered aircraft.

If every thing goes as planned, the prototype of the country’s first indigenous civil aircraft can undertake its maiden flight in five years.

“We are aiming for a 70-100 seating capacity and the aircraft will fly at a speed of 700 km per hour. This is a lower speed than other aircraft, but will save substantial amount of fuel. It will also have space to carry 1000 kilos of cargo”, Nair was quoted as saying recently.

 By Rajesh Rao

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