India's National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL) plans to conduct the much-delayed first flight of the 14-seat Saras multirole light transport aircraft next month, writes Emma Kelly.

The programme has been hit by numerous setbacks, including problems associated with procurement, technical, manufacturing processes and development, says Dr K Yegna Narayan, Saras project director at NAL's Centre for Civil Aircraft Design and Development. "All of the problems are sorted now. The aircraft is ready," he says. The Saras is, however, 7-8% overweight, although Narayan is confident this can be addressed.

The twin turboprop's Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-66s have been run to full power and most of the systems have been checked, says Narayan. Taxi tests are planned for this week. Two prototypes will participate in the 500h flight-test programme, leading to certification in 2006, he says. A third prototype will be used for structural testing. The aircraft will be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics in Bangalore.

Preparations for the first flight come as the government is holding talks with the manufacturer about a launch order for six to 15 aircraft. It is interested in using it as a transport aircraft trainer.

Utility roles and regional commuter services are other applications identified for the Saras, while NAL is considering offering a combi version. Marketing of the aircraft will be ramped up once the first flight has been conducted.

The standard Saras will be configured with 14 seats, but NAL is also looking at a stretched version with up to 19 seats, with Narayan saying that commuter operators in India are more interested in a larger aircraft. Once flight tests of the standard version are under way, the stretched version will be launched, he says.

Source: Flight International