Private firm revives Indonesian turboprop aircraft plans

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A privately-owned Indonesian company is reviving plans to develop and manufacture a turboprop passenger aircraft in the country.

This comes more than 15 years after a similar state-led venture collapsed in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Regio Aviasi Industri (RAI), a joint venture between investment firms Ilthabi Rekatama and Eagle Capital, will begin a 12-14 month market study in 2013 for the development of an aircraft that can carry 70 passengers or more.

If it goes ahead, full-scale development work such as detailed design and the production of a prototype could begin in 2014, says RAI's president Agung Nugroho.

The first aircraft would be rolled out in mid-2016 and the company aims to get it certified by the Indonesian authorities around 2018.

The original N250 aircraft programme, led by state-owned Indonesian Aerospace (IAe) and former Indonesian president BJ Habibie in his previous role as an aircraft engineer and the company's head, collapsed in 1998 as the country faced a cash crunch.

The new aircraft will be similar to the N250 but Nugroho emphasises that the two projects are different ventures.

"This is to continue the national effort of building the N250 aircraft but by private companies," he adds.

Habibie's involvement continues as he is RAI's president commissioner. lthabi Rekatama is owned by his son Ilham Akbar Habibie and will have a 51% stake in the joint venture. Eagle Capital, owned by former Indonesia Stock Exchange president director Erry Firmansyah, has the remaining 49% share.

RAI will lead the project, but plans to work with state-owned agencies, local technological institutes and aircraft design laboratories.

IAe will lead the detailed design phase and manufacture the aircraft at its facilities under RAI's supervision, says Nugroho.

Past market studies show that a turboprop aircraft, which can carry 70 or more passengers, offers the best operating economics, he adds. RAI will try to confirm this via next year's market study.

Most of the aircraft's potential customers will be Indonesian companies, but RAI could also sell the aircraft to foreign firms that are keen, he says.

The technical specifications will be finalised after the preliminary study and input from potential customers will be incorporated into the design.

RAI could also try to get certification from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) if there are orders from foreign customers.

The "latest technology" will be incorporated into the aircraft, says Nugroho. RAI hopes to build 250 aircraft over two decades, he adds.

"There will be competition [from other aircraft manufacturers], but there is room for a new turboprop aircraft," says Nugroho.

The N250 programme was meant to commercially produce an aircraft with up to 68 seats, powered by two derated Allison AE2100C engines. The prototype's first flight was in 1995, but the programme was terminated in 1998 with only two aircraft built.