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Make in India can be a reality when all aircraft technologies can be made within the country

Dilip Kumar Mekala

In December 2015, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) chairman and managing director (CMD) Suvarna Raju had announced that the plan to develop a regional transport aircraft (RTA-70) had been abandoned. HAL and National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) were previously working together to design and develop a 70-seater civil regional aircraft, and held discussions with various global companies like Pratt and Whitney, General Electric for the engine. The project also gathered a lot of interest from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) at 2014 Farnborogh International Airshow where the UK industries assured HAL that they would do their best if given an opportunity and play a critical role in the success of the programme. According to media reports, the HAL CMD Raju had blamed NAL for the premature death of the project. With that, the country’s major civil aviation project, which could have become a phenomenal example for ‘Make in India’, came to an end.

Civil Aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju inaugurating Boeing’s global summit on aerospace technology
Civil Aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju inaugurating Boeing’s global summit on aerospace technology

While assessing the failure of the project, many analysts raised the problem of structural differences between HAL and NAL, and pointed at the fact that these two agencies under ministries of defence and science & technology respectively added bureaucratic complications to the project. According to the earlier plans HAL and NAL planned to form a special purpose vehicle (SPV) and aim for the best possible design for the aircraft. It would then be manufactured by the private and public sector companies. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) had sanctioned nearly 300 crore rupees for the project design and the aircraft was expected to roll out by 2022. The projected estimates for the number of aircraft under the earlier plans were 400 aircraft.

Another reason for the failure of the project was the waning interest in the research aspect of the project, and emphasising on the final product and immediate results. While the aim of building an indigenous civil aircraft is commendable, the project perhaps lacked the realistic imagination of bringing together various stakeholders from public and private enterprises as well as research labs and academia. Perhaps, it is time to re-evaluate the ‘Make in India’ framework in the civil aviation sector and come up with realistic ideas, with renewed focus on research aspects.

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