India's HAL Seeks Partners for New Regional Aircraft

 - March 15, 2016, 9:52 AM
India’s HAL builds Do 228s under license by Germany’s Ruag, mainly for the Indian military. It also recently finished the first of four Do 228 subassemblies for which Ruag issued an export order some four months ago. (Photo: HAL)

India's Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) has assumed the mantle of responsibility for designing a regional transport aircraft (RTA) after nine years of failed attempts by Bangalore-based National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL). HAL has released a request for information (RFI) for collaboration with another airframer to build a 50- to 80-seat “medium-sized twin turbofan/turboprop” in India. The RFI calls for responses by April 11. Plans call for the first prototype to take off in five years.

The project would cost approximately $1 billion for three prototypes and certification. “We are looking to the government for support and have submitted a proposal,” said HAL chairman T. Suvarna Raju. “We will work with a consortium of partners,” NAL original received $3 million to start work, but failed in its attempts to produce a design.

Should responses from prospective manufacturing partners prove encouraging, the 50-50 joint venture project would tie in with the government’s "Make in India" campaign and help address its long-held desire to expand regional and remote connectivity. The OEM partner would provide transfer of technology for manufacture, testing and supply and certification. The work share aspect “can be mutually discussed and decided based on the general commercial terms and frame work,” said the RFI. Plans call for production of some 200 aircraft, though the government expects that number to grow as it revives some 300 of 450 defunct airstrips and considering the multirole requirements for cargo and defense spelled out in the RFI. However, with HAL presently struggling with union issues and delivery schedules of its light combat aircraft and basic trainer, some high-level officials have expressed skepticism about the company’s ability to adhere to program schedules.

“A natural candidate for the RTA could be the [military] transporter C-295 also civil certified, being assembled in India to replace the Indian Air Force Avro fleet,” an MoD official suggested. The RFI states construction “should be modular and capable of quick conversion from one role to another with minimum efforts, logistics, and time in its basic configuration and in all its variants.” The requisite roles include passenger and cargo traffic for civil use, ETOPS capability, a combi conversion ability, VIP movements, troop and military cargo movements, land and maritime surveillance and search and rescue over land and sea. As a result, the C-295 could conceivably bring commonality, lower maintenance and training costs and flexibility for dual use. “It can be configured to carry cargo, passengers, and even both. “The problem with HAL is that it is spoilt for proprietary [features]. It wants everything of its own,” said the official. “Though the C-295 back loading ramp will reduce seats [to a maximum of 50], its multirole [configuration] could prove beneficial.” he said. HAL would likely have to design the RTA for airports with short runways and without air traffic control towers and operations in non-radar controlled airspace.

“The biggest weakness of the aerospace industry in India is the dependency on foreign engines,” said Raju. “If a regional transport aircraft were to be economical, we may co-develop a green engine.”  

Aware of its limitations, HAL has specified in the RFI that the prospective partner provide transfer of technology through detailed technical documentation, technical assistance in establishing infrastructure in India and support during production, and licensing rights. The company currently manufactures and maintains the 19-seat Dornier Do-228 turboprop for civil and defense clients at its factory in Kanpur, where it plans to establish the RTA facility.