Crowded House

Why in the world does India want to manufacture regional jets, when it already has so much on its plate?

An Indian Regional Jet will join a crowded field in which newcomers from Japan, China and Russia will also be competing with the incumbents, Brazil’s Embraer and Canada’s Bombardier, for market share. Analysts say that one or more manufacturers will eventually have to drop out due to the intense competition.

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National Aerospace Laboratories, the Indian state-owned agency leading the study, is keen to involve either Bombardier or Embraer. But if they decline, New Delhi must spend an enormous amount of time and money to develop the technology. Either way, it is impossible for an IRJ to fly by the stated target date of 2012.

Ultimately, this project appears to be more about keeping up appearances. Successful aircraft programmes are a source of national pride, and India is probably keen to show that it is as capable as other leading emerging economies like Brazil, China and Russia.

In truth, India is late to the party. Its decision to manufacture regional aircraft has little economic rationale. It would take too long, cost too much, and have too low a chance of success. Instead of starting a new programme, it would be far more sensible to complete those it has already begun.

These include the Saras 14-seat twin turboprop, Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, and Sitara Intermediate Jet Trainer, which are long overdue and have already cost Indian taxpayers far too much. If India really wants to be taken seriously as an aircraft manufacturer, it could start by bringing those programmes to fruition first.

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