Should India focus on turboprops and leave the RJs to Sukhoi?

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.

Indian cricket.jpg

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

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.

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20 Responses to Should India focus on turboprops and leave the RJs to Sukhoi?

  1. Adrian September 29, 2008 at 4:28 pm #

    Not to quibble, but a bouncer is completely playable with a hook shot or a pull shot…..

  2. sturmovik September 29, 2008 at 4:59 pm #

    A turboprop would make more sense i would guess, considering India already has the experience, albeit limited, of developing the Saras turboprop, which last heard was almost a ton overweight.

    As for the bouncer, well, it may be playable, but Team India doesn’t quite know that, yet :)

  3. alloycowboy September 29, 2008 at 8:46 pm #

    Hey Mary,

    Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) seems like a good fit for Rekkof out of the Nethlands.


  4. Mary Kirby September 30, 2008 at 10:41 am #

    Fair enough, alloycowboy. But haven’t they been talking about an Indian resurrection of Fokker RJs for years? Are the latest discussions showing promise to your knowledge?

  5. Kevin Kitura September 30, 2008 at 9:23 pm #

    Hey Mary,

    Your right, the idea of producing an updated Fokker 100 is not a new idea. As for progress, I have no idea, your contacts are better then mine. I was just thinking that with everyone getting the itch to build a regional jet that Rekkof might do something similar to the Boeing 787.That is enter into joint partnerships with other aircraft manufactures such Mitsubishi, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Fuji Heavy Industries and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited . I would assume that Fokker would keep final assembly and take care of the electrical as that is their area of expertise. So you see there is a lots of possibilities here if companies get creative.


  6. Sturmovik October 2, 2008 at 2:55 am #

    I have my doubts on the Rekkof program, the recent updates on their website notwithstanding. And the Japanese had significant gains in expertise while working on the Boeing 787, which they will improve upon in their coming aircraft programmes, including the MRJ. I doubt if Rekkof has anything viable to offer, financially or technologically.

  7. Mary Kirby October 2, 2008 at 11:36 am #

    The web site is flash, as you mention, but leaves so many questions unanswered. I haven’t had any luck reaching Rekkof, but will continue to try. The following airliners thread is humerous enough…one user compares the company’s repeated attempts to a herpes infection. Ouch.

  8. sturmovik October 5, 2008 at 6:04 pm #

    What I’d really like to see resurrected is the Fairchild Dornier Do-728 program.. and while I’m at it, I might as well dream of owning a private space shuttle :D

  9. Mary Kirby October 7, 2008 at 2:55 pm #

    I’m heading back from the Boyd conference in Aspen. Mike gave the Russians a bit of a dig (to say the least). “This is the first aircraft that Sukhoi’s built that’s not meant to be shot out of the sky,” he says in reference to the SSJ. Ouch!

  10. Mary Kirby October 7, 2008 at 2:59 pm #

    Mike Boyd made a bit of a controversial comment about Sukhoi’s SSJ (at his annual conference this week). “This is the first aircraft that Sukhoi’s built that’s not meant to be shot out of the sky.” Ouch!

  11. Sturmovik October 14, 2008 at 4:27 am #

    Haha.. I would have thought Boyd would spare the Su-80 turboprop and the Su-26 Aerobatic aircraft from being shot down.. :)

  12. Mary Kirby October 20, 2008 at 12:27 pm #

    My colleague Siva has just written the latest update about India’s regional aircraft plans. Check it out at the following link:

    It clears up the fact that India remains really unclear as to its next steps….

  13. Sturmovik October 23, 2008 at 6:48 am #

    You can say that again.. I would think that the government would be better off asking private players to come up with a aircraft, and transfer the technologies developed from the fighter programmes to them. The government research laboratories, while being able to boast talent and funds, are nowhere near professional enough to take on a task like this..

    Most of the major aerospace programmes that have been undertaken so far have had significant foreign inputs as well, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Russians start making favourable noises soon.

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