The father of the TEJAS project, Dr Kota Harinarayana who directed the project for over 20 years from start to the first two jets, is also in the team

by Deepa Balakrishnan

BANGALORE: After sending the cheapest mission to Mars , India is now aiming to manufacture passenger planes that will cost at least 20% lesser than the global market rates. 

A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to work on this has been set up and it has roped in the makers of the Light Combat Aircraft (TEJAS) Tejas, the country's first fighter jet project. The commercial plane could accommodate 70 to 90 passengers. 

NITI Aayog member and former DG of DRDO, VK Saraswat, told CNN-News18 that India could come up with its first large home-grown passenger jet in the next five to seven years. India has been working for nearly 30 years on a 19-seater plane, the Saras, that is still in the works.

"Today we have an SPV and mostly in an autonomous manner, we want to ensure that a regional transport aircraft with a capacity of 70 to 90 passengers should be developed using indigenous technologies as we have developed under the TEJAS and others. We have the right eco-system, in terms of private industries that could complement the development, for it. I feel an RTA can be developed in the next five to seven years if we are in position to take decisions at this stage," Saraswat told CNN News18 on the sidelines of Aero India 2019.

The SPV will have stake-holders from the DRDO, the HAL, and academic institutions -- a heterogeneous group that will steer the process. The father of the TEJAS project, Dr Kota Harinarayana, who directed the project for over 20 years from start to the first two jets, is also in the team.

The efforts are being made to make the plane price competitive on the global stage. "I'm 100 per cent sure we will make it price-competitive. We can make it at least 20 per cent cheaper and 20 per cent is a big difference for an airline operator to buy an aircraft," Dr Harinarayana told CNN News18. 

But a policy push from the government is also needed to give this project a lead, Dr Saraswat said. 

"The most important thing is to gain the confidence of airlines, because airlines are commercial entities. They want minimum operating cost, with maximum comfort to the user. Of course price is one of the major criteria. So when we design now, we will cater for all this,” Saraswat said.

“But we would like certain level of assurance from government in terms of preferential access of market for indigenously-developed planes. At least government-owned airlines must prefer the indigenous aircraft over others," he said, adding that even private airlines must have a certain level of acceptance.

Since the TEJAS development has also brought in serious private participation with many companies manufacturing different parts of the fighter, there is already a good private-industry Eco-system that will ensure that design and development won’t take much time. For the TEJAS, many parts and sub-systems are now made by private companies like L&T.

"Today with so many industries participating in TEJAS, they are now ready. They have learnt their lesson... and they also know they will have greater opportunity with production of an indigenous passenger plane," Dr Harinarayana said.

International collaborators are also on board to ensure there is a good market for the plane in due course, he added.