15 of the Saras MK2 have been ordered by the Indian Air Force

Nine years after the prototype Saras aircraft tragically crashed, killing all three crew members, India is once again looking to join the small elite of nations building passenger aircraft. Earlier this week, 21 member committee of experts were set up to look into civilian aircraft manufacturing, which is endeavouring to put in place a road map of India’s journey towards successful launch of commercial airliners.

The first NAL Saras Prototype suffered a tragic crash moments after take off.

A member of the panel discussed the outcomes with India’s Economic Times magazine, saying, “What’s being discussed is the feasibility of manufacturing aircraft of 19- to 100-seater.” They said that recommendations would be ready by the end of the month.

What Will India Build?

The specifics of the plans are still under wraps, but a couple of things are evidently clear. Unlike the initial Saras Prototype 1, which was a small 14 seater, this time they are looking much bigger. The panel is discussing manufacturing craft of 100 seats or more, which would cater to the Indian aviation market in a more appealing fashion.

According to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), as of July this year India had 1,358 aircraft registered in the country. Of those, 620 belonged to scheduled operators, and only 79 of those had less than 100 seats. Of those, just nine had under 70 seats, showing a strong preference for larger, homegrown aircraft.

The second likely outcome is that this project will not be led, at least not entirely, by the Indian government. Saras was funded by the nation, and as much as politically India would like to own their own manufacturing, lessons are being learned from the catastrophic money pits which many other state owned concerns have become. Research is showing low demand for small aircraft.

India Should Build Aircraft Indigenously

Back in July, the former Chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation, Kiran Kumar, raised the issue of India’s aircraft manufacturing, saying that the country was ‘poised for significant growth’ in the industry. He said that many industries in the country already provide key components to other aircraft manufacturers, and that it was about time they started building on these capabilities.

“In the coming days and years, there is a tremendous opportunity, we need to build on the capabilities of the country” He commented. He claimed other companies are realising the potential in India to manufacture cost effective components and sub-systems, and that Indian aircraft manufacturing should be supported by the government.

“We also need to make sure that we don’t depend only on outside entities for building the aircraft; we need to start building in the country.”

Just last month, Lockheed Martin Corporation announced they were looking for strategic joint venture partners in India to manufacture aircraft components and, indeed, entire aircraft. When asked it they were looking to build the F-16 in India, they responded in the affirmative. Their India Chief Executive Officer Phil Shaw commented.

“There are unmatched opportunities for Indian industry on the F-16 program — the world’s largest fighter aircraft ecosystem. Exclusive F-16 production also integrates Indian industry into a [USD] $165 billion fighter aircraft sustainment market. Only the F-16 has the proven performance and scale to meet the Indian Air Force’s fighter aircraft needs and ‘Make in India’ priorities.”

Lockheed Martin Want India To Turn Out Three F-16’s A Day

With so much focus on India’s manufacturing capabilities, it’s only a matter of time until a successful passenger jet comes out of their stables too.

Who Makes Planes Right Now?

The pressure is mounting on India to join the club of countries making passenger planes. Although most of us will be aware of the efforts of Boeing and Airbus, more nations are accelerating their efforts to become world class aircraft builders.

Most recently, China released the COMAC C919, an aircraft sporting 168 seats in a narrow body construction. Likely to become part of the China Easter fleet by 2021, aviation experts already compare it to the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, and India wants a piece of the action too.

Right now, eight countries are involved in aircraft manufacturing, with a partnership between China and Russia for the CRAIC CR929 in the offing also:

Boeing: US
Airbus: France
Bombardier: Canada
United Aircraft Corporation: Russia
COMAC: China
ATR: France-Italy
Mitsubishi MRJ: Japan
Embraer: Brazil

We’ll be watching with interest to see where these latest discussions lead.