Indian scientists have re-ignited the development of the country’s first passenger and transport plane, Saras, a 19-seater turboprop aircraft that could help fulfil Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push toward making “people who wear hawai chappals” to take “hawai jahaz“.
The plane has been designed by the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) in Bengaluru, and is being tested by pilots from the Indian Air Force. In the making for the last 18 years, it crashed during testing in 2009, killing two pilots.
“After the crash, we have found the reason and it was a procedural mistake. Apart from that, there were a lot of design deficiencies which have been rectified quickly by our team, mainly those handling quality and controllability of the aircraft and digital avionics,” Jitendra J Jadhav, Director, National Aerospace Laboratories, told NDTV.
The project was resurrected in 2016. The 7,000-kg plane has already made two successful test flights this year.
“The project was dumped by the previous government, after an accident during test flight in 2009. Though the Directorate General of Civil Aviation had exonerated the aircraft from any design flaw or poor-quality production, no effort was made to revive the project,” Union Science Minister Harsh Vardhan said.
“Saras Mk 2 will be ideal for commuter connectivity under the Udaan scheme for a variety of applications like air taxi, aerial search, survey, executive transport, disaster management, border patrol, coast guard, ambulance and other community services,” the minister said.
Air Vice Marshall Sandeep Singh, Commandant, Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment, Bengaluru told NDTV: “The Saras we have flown now is in fact better than the earlier prototype. There have been several design improvements which NAL as the designer has incorporated in this aircraft. There is no doubt it is good plane.”
“The Indian Air Force is fully committed to continue testing it so that we can come up with an aircraft which we are proud of and the country is proud of,” he said.It would cost Rs. 1,000 crore before production starts in 2022. But that’s still a saving compared to what India currently pays. Saras is expected to cost Rs. 45 crore, while a comparable Dornier plane costs Rs. 60 crore.
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has been identified as the production agency for the military version of Saras, while the production of civil version will be given to a private player, NAL says. India needs 120-160 aircraft in this segment — both civil and military versions — in the next 10 years.
According to NAL, the aircraft available in the international market are of 1970s technology, such as Beechcraft 19000D, Dornier-228 and Embraer EMB 110. They have higher fuel consumption, lower speed, unpressurised cabin, high operating cost and unsuitable for operations from hot and high-altitude airfields.
After India began its light transport aircraft project, Russia, China, the US, Indonesia and Poland have launched programmes for development of next generation 19-seater aircraft.
NAl says the upgraded Saras Mk2 has considerable drag and weight reduction with unique features like high cruise speed, lower fuel consumption, short landing and take-off distance, low cabin noise, operable from high and hot airfield and the cabin is pressurised.
“India needs a 19-seater aircraft. We are planning to make a plane with 2018 technology but 30 per cent cheaper than imported aircraft. It will also have 20 per cent better performance than imported aircraft,” the NAL director said.