New Delhi grapples with funding structure for indigenous regional aircraft

New Delhi
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Financing considerations continue to delay the official launch of India's regional transport aircraft (RTA) programme.

"There are a lot of policy issues that need to be ironed out to do this, especially since it will involve a large amount of money," says National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) acting director Shyam Chetty. "It will take some time before we get clearance."

NAL has held discussions with both domestic and international aerospace players on how to implement the programme.

"Industry has said under what conditions they will be willing to participate," says Chetty. "We've taken all their input and await government clearance to release an expression of interest. When this is released, we can get formal inputs from industry and start the programme."

NAL had hoped that clearance for it to issue the "expression of interest" would be granted before India's current fiscal year ending on 31 March 2013. Chetty believes this is not likely to be forthcoming until after 31 March 2013.

Chetty spoke to Flightglobal at NAL's headquarters on the outskirts of Bangalore.

Chetty said that initially there was a great deal of reluctance in New Delhi toward enlisting international partners to share risks. The large degree of international content and participation on indigenous aircraft projects such as the Comac C919, Mitsubishi Regional Jet and the Sukhoi Superjet 100 have highlighted to New Delhi the important role of international collaboration for major aircraft programmes.

The government is still grappling, however, with how to divide costs and share risks with the private sector.

"How do we finance a programme with large public sector funding, but larger private sector participation?" asks Chetty. "It's not an easy job to get money into this programme in a transparent and acceptable manner for all."

A key question about the RTA, which is envisaged as having 70-90 seats, has been whether it will be powered by a turbofan or a turboprop. On this question, NAL is leaning toward a turboprop, noting advances in turboprop technology and that the average distance the aircraft will fly is 500nm (926km).

A turboprop would also be more suitable for military operations, such as maritime patrol for India's coast guard. In addition, Chetty suggests that a military variant could have a rear ramp.

NAL forecasts a demand of up to 500 RTAs in India, from both commercial and military operators.