A shortcut to nowhere

This article first appeared as a Comment in the 23 July issue of Flight International.

Governments love building aircraft. Along with thousands of skilled jobs, such programmes provide a vast degree of national prestige.

New Delhi’s plan to develop a regional aircraft seating between 70 and 90 passengers can be viewed through this prism. The project is as much about providing work as it is about affirming India’s position as a serious regional player.

Unfortunately, commercial reality appears to have taken a back seat. Regional jets and turboprops have enjoyed scant success among Indian carriers, which have instead acquired larger narrowbody types.

Moreover, India’s record of developing aircraft is dubious. The country has struggled for decades to produce the Hindustan Aeronautics Tejas fighter, an outdated jet almost wholly reliant on foreign technology.

Fostering an environment that provides skilled, well-paid jobs is the prerogative of any government, but there are far more economical and realistic ways of doing so than developing a vanity aircraft that will struggle to compete at home and aboard.

India can become an aerospace power one day, but first it must develop a strong, diversified private aerospace sector that can learn from work packages on the world’s cutting-edge aircraft programmes.

Building a national aircraft is always tempting, but it is a dangerous shortcut.

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