It has been a little while so let’s get back to some regional aircraft chat, shall we?
For starters, some interesting news is coming out of India about the Government’s plan for a 70-110-seater. The Hindu reports that Indian scientists, developers and operators met last week to initiate the regional aircraft project. Key quote:
“The mission would be to make a cheap, rugged and easy to maintain 70 to 110-seater civilian aircraft that should start rolling out within a decade.”
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) chairman Ashok Baweja was among the attendees of the event. Rightly so, HAL is expected to play a major role in the regional aircraft’s development.
Crucially, however, the Government has yet to decide whether the aircraft will have a turboprop or turbo-jet engine. You may recall that the original consideration involved an Indian Regional Jet (IRJ) and that Bombardier and Embraer would be solicited for assistance. Now it is being referred to as the “Indian Regional Transport Aircraft”.
Quips one industry observer: “It took 25 years to build a fighter so I’m sure we’ll hear something before the decade is out”.
On a serious note, however, a large-sized turboprop might make the most sense in light of the fact that the industry is awash in CRJs and ERJs, and will soon have ARJs, MRJs and SSJs to choose from (in addition to Bombardier and Embraer’s larger-sized offerings, the planned CSeries and the current E-Jets family, respectively).
Yes, India would still face turboprop competition. Bombardier vice-president marketing and analysis Barry MacKinnon recently reiterated that several carriers are interested in a stretch version of the Q400, dubbed the Q400X. He said Bombardier will be able to deliver it before the planned 90-seat product from ATR. And Embraer continues to consider a re-entry into the market, after stepping up analysis of turboprops (as a possible replacement for its ERJ).
An air show is happening in Hyderabad in a couple of weeks, so more information may be released at that time. Check out the web site at http://www.india-aviation.in/main.htm
The show is being billed as “the first international exhibition of its kind in India on civil aviation sector”.
Now let’s add a little intrigue to the whole story. In a report two days later, the Hindu says Sukhoi – which is bringing the Superjet (SSJ) to market, albeit later than planned – will invest big bucks in setting up a civilian aircraft manufacturing plant in Nagpur. And today AirAsia News is reporting that India is planning to set up a joint venture with the Russians for “a collaborative project for development of a 20-tonne multi role transport aircraft for the armed forces of the two countries”.
Our industry observer notes:
“I think Sukhoi just made an extremely interesting move. I don’t know how much of this is true, but The Hindu is well respected source. Sukhoi have had defence ties with India in manufacturing before this, but bringing the Superjet here was a bouncer, to borrow a cricket term.”
For the uninitiated, like me, a bouncer, it is an unplayable ball, one that bounces above the batsman’s shoulder level, usually catching him by surprise.
So build the Superjet in India, leave the IRJ on the drawing board, and focus on an Indian turboprop. Yep…that would be a surprise. But it just might be the most sensible way to fly.