India to study development of regional aircraft

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India is studying the possibility of designing and manufacturing a 50- to 90-seat passenger aircraft, with the country’s main aerospace research agency hoping to secure funding from the Government for the programme shortly.

“We’ve just begun the initial research and there’s still a very long way to go before this comes to fruition. We have not sought funding from the Government yet,” says Kota Harinarayanan, who is leading the study at the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL).

The baseline aircraft would be a 70-seat turboprop, with 50- and 90-seat variants also on the cards, he says. These would be fuel-efficient aircraft that can be used on short-haul routes, he adds.

The aircraft is being pitched against the likes of ATR in the regional transport market, according to Indian media reports. NAL is seeking $75 million in funding from its parent agency, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). It plans to work with private companies in the research and marketing, but details remain sketchy.

According to some estimates, there will be a demand for around 5,000 65- to 90-seat aircraft in the next 20 years. While Bombardier, Embraer and ATR have traditionally dominated this market, their hold is being challenged by newcomers from China, Russia and Japan that are developing their own regional jets.

China Aviation Industry Corp I is building the 90-seat ARJ21, which is expected to be in service in the second half of 2009. Russia’s Sukhoi is developing its SuperJet, while Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced in March that it would develop a Mitsubishi Regional Jet by 2013.