Light transport aircraft Saras

BANGALORE: The indigenous light transport aircraft (LTA) Saras, a modified version of which has already completed more than 10 test flights, will make its flying debut at Aero India, hoping to cash in on the show’s popularity to further the programme. Saras is developed by National Aeronautics Laboratories (NAL).

First conceived in 1989, the project was to be shelved after a Saras prototype aircraft crashed near Bidadi on the city outskirts in March 2009, killing three personnel. But the Centre gave a second chance in late 2016, which was announced at Aero India 2017.

“The project was dumped by the previous government, after the crash despite the Directorate General of Civil Aviation exonerating the aircraft from any design flaw or poor-quality production. The credit for reviving the project goes to the present government,” Union minister Harsh Vardhan said at the 2017 air show.

However, two years later, the Centre’s Rs 500 crore fund for the project is yet to reach the NAL. “We have been told that it is in the pipeline and clearance is at advanced stages. We are likely to get the money soon,” said an official aware of the developments.

The Rs 500 crore fund is important to take the project forward as NAL needs this money to start work on the three proposed limited series production (LSP) aircraft.

While the IAF has made a commitment to buy at least 15 Saras aircraft when it is ready, the plane is still far away from obtaining military certification. “The 10-odd flights have been good with all parameters being met. We are gearing up for more trials,” said the official.

NAL director Jitendra J Jadhav had earlier told TOI that the team is looking at about 20 flights before initiating the certification process. Vardhan had said there are even plans to subsequently use Saras in civilian roles.

Saras was pegged to be at least 20-25% cheaper than any imported aircraft in the same category. The unit cost of the aircraft, with more than 70% indigenous content, was estimated at about Rs 40-45 crore compared to Rs 60-70 crore for the imported ones.

Defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has already signed an MoU to build Saras post certification. India will need 120-160 such aircraft, including for civilian use, over the next decade.