Indonesian Aerospace (IAe) is determined to build a name for itself in the turboprop market, through development of a new commuter aircraft called the N219 and a commercial variant of the CN235 tactical transport.

The state-owned airframer, also known as Dirgantara Indonesia, held a roll out ceremony for the N219 on 10 December 2015. The event was well attended by senior political figures, reflecting strong support for the project.

IAe plans to a three-year certification test in the first quarter of 2016 using four prototypes, it says in an email to Flightglobal. To date, it has built two of four planned prototypes. Static tests will begin in February, with flight tests to follow three months later. Apart from securing Indonesian type certification for the N219s, it also hopes to obtain certification either from the US Federal Aviation Administration or the European Aviation Safety Agency.

The N219 will be capable of operating in a number of commercial, military, and parapublic roles. Missions include scheduled and chartered airline operations for up to 19 passengers, troop transport, search and rescue, cargo, and maritime surveillance.

Commuter Aircraft in Indonesia

Flightglobal’s Fleets Analyzer indicates that the Cessna Caravan and Grand Caravan are the most numerous aircraft types in Indonesia, with 69 examples in service, followed by the Pilatus PC6 (21 aircraft) and DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 300 (15 examples).

Other older types still serving in Indonesia include the Bombardier Shorts 330, Britten-Norman BN2 Islanders, DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 300 and Fairchild Dorner 228. These aircraft range from 29 to 39 years of age.

Large replacement market

Edwin Soedarmo is chief executive of Indonesian aviation consultancy CSE Aviation, and a former president director at IAe. He thinks that the N219 has a bright future in Indonesia, as the aircraft is well placed to replace these legacy types.

He cites a CSE study that shows air connectivity in Indonesia is split into three types: hub-to-hub, hub-to-spoke and point-to-point flights.

“This [point-to-point] segment is a growing market as the consequence of [Jakarta's] decentralisation of authority to the provincial and regency-level governments,” explains Soedarmo.

“Direct flights, with no stopover at any big cities or an inter-province flight, would [yield promising] revenue for operators, which at present are served on a limited basis, and mostly flown by very old airplanes such as IAe NC212-100 and -200, as well as and DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 300.”

The CSE Aviation study also indicates that Indonesia has a potential market requirement of between seven to 10 commuter aircraft in each of its 34 provinces over the next five years, for a total between 238 and 340 aircraft.

While the N219 will compete with similar aircraft of its class, such as the NC212-400 (an proposed upgrade of the venerable C212-400), Cessna Grand Caravan, as well as Viking DHC 6 Twin Otter Series 400, Soedarmo is confident of its prospects. He says the N219 is designed for geographical challenges in Indonesia, where remote regions have minimal infrastructure at air strips, often with runways of less than 600m in length.

Skills shortage

Soedrarmo admits the road ahead has challenge. A key hurdle for the N219 is a lack of skilled engineers.

Soedarmo says that after a previous government-led turboprop programme – the 68-seater N250 – was terminated in 1998 due to the Asian Financial Crisis, many skilled employees either quit IAe or retired. Following this, Indonesia steered clear of major aircraft development programmes. Instead, it focused on being part of the supply chain for the leading OEMs.

Soedarmo says the N219 offers the opportunity to regain Indonesia’s lost engineering skills, but that “this requires strong determination” from IAe as well as the Indonesian government. IAe will have to offer potential customers an acceptable financing package, a good aftersales support. Hardest of all, it will need to ensure reliability and low operating costs.

To date, the N219 has secured letters of intent from small and lesser-known carriers. These include Aviastar Mandiri, Nusantara Buana Air, as well as charter operator Air Born.

While Lion Group has expressed interest to acquire up to 50 of the N219s, no firm expression or commitment to acquire the aircraft has been made. Lion had indicated to Flightglobal in August 2013 that should it proceed to buy the N219s, it could use the type to add up to 200 additional airports to its network.

“These large air operators must carry out an internal feasibility study whether this new flight service using N219 aircraft would be profitable or not,” Soedarmo adds.

Commercial variant of CN235

Apart from the N219, IAe intends to develop a commercial variant of the Airbus Defence & Space CN235 tactical transport, designated the N245. It explained that by adopting the CN235 design, it will be able to optimise development costs and the time taken to build the N245.

Creating a commercial variant would involve re-designing the tail-empennage to remove the ramp. This would also mean that creating an N245 therefore requires a series of alternate production stations parallel to the main line.

Besides re-designing the tail empennage, several frames would be added to lengthen the fuselage. Changes to the design system as well as its interior are also being looked at.

One major change will be the engine. In a March 2015 interview with Flightglobal, IAe director of production Arie Wibowo said Pratt & Whitney PW127s will power the N245, as opposed the General Electric CT7s that power the CN235.

Indonesian Aerospace sees the N245 operating at 25,000 feet, higher than the typical operating altitude of the CN235. The company feels the N245 would fill a useful niche between the developmental N219, which targets the segment now served by the Twin Otter and Cessna Caravan, and the ATR series.

IAe’s market analysis shows a domestic market for an aircraft with a capacity of 50 passengers that can operate from runways too short for ATRs.

At the start of 2016, IAe says it still finalising the N245’s design configuration, which will then be used in wind tunnel tests. It hopes to have two to three prototypes ready for testing sometime in 2018.

In addition to its work on the N219 and N245, IAe produces wing structures for Airbus A320s, A350s and A380s, and provides MRO-related services. The company is involved with a number of programmes such as the Airbus Helicopters H225, H332, and the Bell Helicopter 412.

The company is also playing a junior role to South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) for the KFX fighter programme. This role was confirmed in January, with Indonesia signing up to provide 20% of the programme’s funding, which will see Indonesia receive 80 fighters and South Korea 120.

Despite this work on high profile programmes, however, it is abundantly clear that Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country wants to stake a place at the top table of the world’s aerospace industry, with IAe cast as an OEM in its own right.

“Aircraft manufacturing is a high risk, high capital business with low profit,” says Soedarmo. “But [it] has a very significant benefit, through its spin-off effect to a nation. It [also] requires a large number of aircraft orders for the manufacturer to survive. At present, [it is largely] dependent on the government of Indonesia.”

“Therefore government [support] for IAe is initially required, before a rational step-by-step approach could be implemented to [turn] the company to a self-supporting company.”

Source: Cirium Dashboard