India’s RTA Dreams Take Shape

 - February 25, 2011, 9:30 AM
Germany’s Diehl built a partial mockup of the RTA interior displayed at this month’s Aero India show in Bangalore.

India’s government-owned National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) plans to present a feasibility report by the end of April to seek clearance to manufacture a 70- to 90-seat passenger airplane called the RTA, short for regional transport aircraft.

Developers envision 25- to 35-percent lower direct operating costs than contemporary aircraft, thanks to advanced technology in the fields of aerodynamics, propulsion, materials and avionics. The cabin, displayed in partial mockup form by Germany’s Diehl at the Aero India show earlier this month in Bangalore, would feature four-abreast seating and overhead bins for IATA-standard roller bags.

“We improvised on our first mockup presented last year at Hyderabad based on inputs from NAL,” Marcus Puknatis, Diehl Aircabin marketing and communications manager, told AIN at the show. “We’re hoping that NAL chooses our products for its new aircraft.”

NAL has designed two variants of the RTA, one using a long fuselage to accommodate 90 passengers–the RTA-90–and another, shorter version that would hold 70 seats in a 32-inch pitch called the RTA-70. Both would carry one ton of cargo capacity. Range with maximum payload would reach 1,350 nm at a ceiling of 41,000 feet. Other features include capability to operate from ill-equipped airfields, enhanced synthetic vision systems, low emissions and low noise (FAR 36 Stage IV), integrated vehicle health monitoring and structural health monitoring. 

Plans call for international aerospace companies to partner on the $1 billion project. “Our aim is to develop a right-sized civil aircraft with the lowest operating economics to utilize for long, thin and short-haul routes for enhanced connectivity in the country,” said NAL director Dr. A R Upadhya. “We’d like to develop the product in joint venture or public-private partnership mode with a partner and international collaboration.”

Upadhya said NAL continues to study both a turboprop- and turbofan-powered RTA, and that General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, Snecma and Rolls-Royce have all expressed interest in partnering on the project. Indigenous companies would develop all other parts of the airframe. NAL anticipates receiving government approval by year-end, at which time it plans to start building the first prototype. Its developers plan to ready the aircraft for commercial operation by 2017.

NAL operates as part of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, which has contributed $75 million toward the design of the RTA. Fewer than 100 of the 450 airfields in India are operational, and NAL has identified 120 airfields, each with 3,000- to 5,000-foot runways for operating its RTAs. About 50 percent of the country’s population lives close to the smaller airfields. NAL expects demand for regional aircraft in India to reach 250 by 2025.

Along with Mahindra Aerospace, NAL has already helped design the NM5-100, a five-seat turboprop aimed at air taxi, training and tourism. It expects to fly the first prototype by June.