The government so far has given in-principle approval for the full-scale engineering development of the RTA project and funding will be provided to a Special Purpose Vehicle

NEW DELHI: National Aerospace Laboratories, established by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, is the principal organisation tasked with the responsibility for designing and developing civilian aircraft in the country. The organisation is currently undertaking the development of primarily three aircraft--Regional Transport Aircraft, 19-seater SARAS MK-II and trainer HANSA .In an interview to ET Infra, Dr. Abhay A. Pashilkar, Director, CSIR-National Aerospace Laboratories, stated that a clean sheet design and development of the country’s first regional aircraft, referred to as Regional Transport Aircraft or RTA, a 90-seat turboprop aircraft, will require funding of up to $2 billion and the project will be executed under a Special Purpose Vehicle to ensure efficient execution. “Typically $1 billion for full scale engineering development, and then subsequent production will be done by industry. So typically, overall, it is something like $2 billion of investment for a clean sheet design, as they call it. So the derivative design where we take an existing aircraft would be probably less expensive in that sense but that is the kind of ballpark figure,” Dr. Pashilkar said. “As of now, we are in the project definition phase, it started last April and will conclude by September of this year,” he added.

However, CSIR-NAL does not plan to go all alone in executing the prestigious project. Apart from state-owned aircraft manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and Defence Research and Development Organisation, National Aerospace Laboratories is also looking for private sector partners, domestic as well as foreign, which should enable more funding options and diversification of the target market for such an aircraft.

“For the RTA, from the beginning we are planning to have this development in a partnership mode keeping in view that it is a bigger aircraft. So, we currently have HAL and the DRDO as our partners in the conceptual design stage and we are actively looking for industry both in India and abroad to come forward and become a partner in the supply chain, design development and eventually in the production after the aircraft gets certified,” Dr. Pashilkar said.

The government so far has given in-principle approval for the full-scale engineering development of the RTA project and funding will be provided to the Special Purpose Vehicle. “Once the project definition phase is over, we will be providing a detailed project report to the government. The detailed project report essentially contains what needs to be made, designed, how it needs to be done, and who are possible partners within India and abroad who can work on this project,” Dr. Pashilkar said.

“So, once that report is accepted by the government, that is when the full-scale engineering development will be launched. So, you can expect that to be taken up sometime after the detailed project report is launched,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra has called upon the domestic aviation industry to undertake manufacturing of commercial passenger aircraft within the country. The government recently approved allotment of land for manufacturing of C-295 Military Transport Aircraft, which can also have civilian use, by Tata Advanced System Ltd in collaboration with Airbus Defence and Space, in Gujarat. If successful, the RTA project will be India’s answer for creating a manufacturing base for an indigenous regional jet.


The SARAS aircraft has been the most high-profile project of National Aerospace Laboratories, which began in the 1990’s. The MK-II version of the 19-seat light transport aircraft, which can ideally serve smaller airports and reach India's hinterland, has so far undergone wind tunnel testing and preliminary design of all the systems. The next step is the development of prototypes.

“SARAS MK-II, which is our big project right now, it is currently in detailed design, and very soon we should start getting the drawings after which we will get it fabricated in India,” said Dr. Pashilkar.

“We expect that once the drawings are released, progressively we will start our manufacturing process and sometime next year, we should have the components coming together and we are then able to essentially roll out the aircraft and once that is complete, then the flight testing part will start,” he added.

Once certification is received from the concerned authorities, manufacturing partner HAL is expected to undertake the production of 15 SARAS MK-II aircraft.

“So that is the kind of timeline that we have. The project itself is up to 2026 by which time we have to complete all of these activities,” he said.

National Aerospace Laboratories, with support from HAL, is planning to make at least two prototypes, but may also consider a third in order to speed up the certification process.