Not every hobbyist is this lucky

A six-seater, rooftop-built plane that hasn’t flown even once got Amol Yadav land as large as 120 football fields to build an aircraft factory. That came with a promise of an initial investment of Rs 200 crore.

Maharashtra, India’s most industrialised state, signed a pact with him to create an aircraft-building hub complete with suppliers, entailing total investments of Rs 35,000 crore. Yadav, 41, a trained pilot, has no aeronautical engineering background or experience with an airplane maker.

“I wouldn’t say an official engineering background is required for this,” he told BloombergQuint, as workers measured the wooden frame of what he said was the prototype of a 19-seater plane on the rooftop of his Charkop home in suburban Mumbai. “What you need is will power.”

Yadav is a self-taught hobbyist. Building planes in backyards or garages is nothing new worldwide. Setting up an aircraft facility is another thing. Companies like Cessna, Cirrus and Dornier have to comply with a maze of rules and meet strict global manufacturing and safety standards.

Amol Yadav standing near his prototype-19 seater plane on his rooftop in Charkop, Mumbai

‘It’s Not A Joke’

“It’s not a joke to make an aircraft to begin with. You need to have advanced technology like wind tunnel testing, advanced simulation systems,” Mark Martin, founder and chief executive officer of Martin Consulting, an aviation think tank, told BloombergQuint over the phone from New Delhi.
As of now, we don’t even know whether his aircraft can fly or not and this deal is signed. This is politically gimmicky. We are not impressed at all. Mark Martin, Founder-CEO, Martin Consulting

Emailed queries to the Maharashtra government on the parameters based on which it selected Yadav for the project remained unanswered.

The government in India regulates the aircraft industry with only Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. allowed to make planes. The state-run company recently got approval to make Dornier 228s—used by the armed forces—for civilian use. And even HAL makes the planes based on a licensing pact signed three decades ago with the original owner, Germany’s Dornier GMBG.

In the U.S., aircraft can be made in the backyard and given an experimental licence, said Martin. That’s not for commercial purposes to ferry paid passengers, he said. “It is allowed as a hobby.”

The memorandum of understanding with Maharashtra states that Yadav’s Thrust Aircraft Company would build the facility covering an area of 157 acres in Palghar, 140-kilometres north of Mumbai. The project, it claims, will generate employment for 10,000 people.

Workers working to build 19 seater plane on rooftop of Amol Yadav’s building in Charkop, Mumbai

Named After Modi

Building planes requires an ecosystem to support it, right from raw material, hydraulics, seats, composites, aircraft plastics, oils and more. India still doesn’t make all parts. HAL makes some of its components locally while its Dorniers are powered by Honeywell International’s Garrett engines.

Yadav said he has tied up with Pratt & Whitney, Canada for the engines. “They are ready. The first 19-seater plane will be ready in six months.”

The aircraft engine maker declined to comment to BloombergQuint’s emailed queries.

Yadav, a commander with Jet Airways Ltd., has to build two planes in six months and a total of 1,300 overall. That’s when his first six-seater parked at the Mumbai airport awaits permission for its first flight. It took six years to build on top of the building his real estate developer father owns. It’s powered by a custom-built Proformance Unlimited V8 350-horsepower engine imported from the U.S., he said.

In 2014, rules on experimental aircraft were deleted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, delaying registration. He sought help from Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. The plane was then displayed at the state government’s ‘Make in India’ event attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016.

The rules were changed, and Yadav said he obtained a registration certificate from the regulator in November. As a sign gratitude, he renamed his plane to VT-NMD—after PM Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

Parts Still Needed

Still, it’s not sure when 10-foot high aluminium plane with a wing span of 37 feet will take off. “DGCA conducted an inspected and suggested additions,” he said. “We have imported the material required. Hopefully, by the end of this month or next month, it will be ready to fly.”

Flight testing is a lengthy procedure done in extreme conditions. “For testing Boeing 737, they crash it on ground and test its survivability,” Martin said. “It’s not that simple.”

Emailed queries to the DGCA about the safety aspects and clearance remained unanswered.

Yadav has yet to go through the entire approval process and the MoU is an indicative pact. A chunk of the investments promised through such agreements doesn’t materialise.

Dhiraj Mathur, defence and aerospace consultant at PWC, agreed that the deal with Yadav “may seem a bit extraordinary”. “But it’s good that government is lending its weight to innovation and entrepreneurship, and Make in India”.

Martin isn’t convinced. “I wish this guy luck and hope he succeeds,” he said. “But it’s not easy.”