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India’s small aircraft mfg ambitions to take wings in 2024 with development of SARAS MK II prototypes, Infra News, ET Infra

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 SARAS MK II
SARAS MK II

NEW DELHI: The Ministry of Civil Aviation in March last year notified the Small Aircraft Scheme under the regional connectivity scheme UDAN, with an aim to stimulate regional and hinterland air connectivity in the country. The focus of the scheme is to encourage the operations of small aircraft with a seat capacity of 20 seats and below, which can operate to and from airports which do not require extensive infrastructure.

Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia at the inaugural session of CAPA India Aviation Summit 2023 last Monday outlined the importance of small aircraft operations for India and salient features embedded in the scheme to promote the same.

“Within UDAN…I have introduced the Small Aircraft Scheme to make sure that we increase last mile connectivity into the hinterland. The SAS (Small Aircraft Scheme) has three models; one per seat, one for the whole plane and the third to also look at certain small aircraft which are sub-20 seater, where we also look at incorporating a portion of the lease cost into the VGF (viability gap funding) which makes it much more fungible for the small aircraft,” the minister said.

Currently in Southern India, aerospace engineers at the CSIR-National Aerospace Laboratories based in Bengaluru, Karnataka, are quietly working on the design and development of indigenous small aircraft programme-SARAS MK II, a 19-seater aircraft, a project which has seen many ups and downs since 1990’s but is now close to take off.

SARAS MK II

In an interaction with ET Infra in February at the Aero India event held at Yelahanka Air Force base in Bengaluru, Dr. Abhay A. Pashilkar, Director, CSIR-National Aerospace Laboratories, country’s premier civil aircraft design and development organisation, shared the current status of India’s small aircraft programme, which is now getting closer to flight testing stage.

With support from state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, National Aerospace Laboratories is planning to make at least two prototypes, but may also consider a third in order to speed up the certification process.

“So we are expecting very soon the drawings (SARAS MK II) to be released and one year down the line, we expect that once the drawings are released, progressively we will start our manufacturing process and sometime next year (2024), we should have the components coming together and we are then able to essentially roll out the aircraft (prototype) and once that is complete, then the flight testing part will start,” said Dr. Pashilkar.

“About a year after that one can expect to receive the certification…we are working with them (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd) closely, so that they take up the production and make the first 15 numbers (for operators). 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,” said Dr. Pashilkar.

Apart from serving as a commercial passenger aircraft, SARAS MK II can also be modified as a carrier for either the civilian or the military organisations, while other roles include that of an air ambulance as well as an aircraft for VIP flights.

SMALL AIRCRAFT SCHEME

Once the aircraft reaches the production stage, it is likely to emerge as a preferred aircraft for the Small Aircraft Scheme.

 Dornier 228
Dornier 228

Currently, government owned Alliance Air is operating Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd manufactured sub-20 seater Dornier 228 aircraft. The first such flight under the Small Aircraft Scheme was in April of 2022 between Dibrugarh in Assam, Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh and Lilabari in Assam. However, the Dornier 228 is based on designs developed by German aircraft maker Dornier Flugzeugwerke and the model is manufactured under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

If SARAS MK II, post the development of prototypes and certification process, is able to get into full-fledged production, it will emerge as India’s first indigenously designed, developed and manufactured aircraft to be utlised for commercial air services.

The Small Aircraft Scheme has been launched with an aim to service about 219 small airports across India which can support small aircraft operations without the availability of much infrastructure and for serving Tier III and smaller cities.

According to the notification, viability gap funding will be provided to operators who deploy such sub-20 seater aircraft along with grant of exclusivity on routes, state governments extending additional help such as marketing support or reimbursement of statutory costs, airport charges, taxes, among others.

Civil Aviation Secretary Rajiv Bansal on Tuesday, while speaking at the CAPA India Aviation Summit, outlined that lack of manufacturing capability for commercial aircraft has been one of India’s ‘biggest failings’. If the SARAS MK II aircraft, backed by the Small Aircraft Scheme, takes off to the skies for commercial operations, that might just start the process of rectification of those failings in the past.



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