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RTA-70 Regional Transport Aircraft

Recognising the business opportunities offered by the growth of Civil Aviation, HAL has embarked on a programme for the coproduction of 50-70 seater aircraft with a partner, and is also slated with partners for co development and manufacture of 100 seater aircraft. In early 2007 it was reported that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) were planning to jointly design and develop a 70-seater civil regional aircraft. Its development cost could run to Rs.4,000 crore and will roll out for certification in six to seven years. The aircraft will cater to regional routes, having a range of around 600 km to 800 km. HAL and the NAL had not decided on aspects such as work share, funding, and even whether the aircraft will have a turbo-prop or turbo jet engine. NAL had held discussions with Pratt and Whitney (Canada) and General Electric (U.S.) for an engine.

The two organisations estimated that over the next 20 years there would be a requirement for around 400 aircraft from both the defence services and civil airlines for regional aircraft of this size. While the Services were looking to replace Dornier, Avro and AN-32 fleets, the growing domestic aviation sector would need to acquire additional regional aircraft of this size. The NAL-designed RTA-70 is meant to ply short-haul routes and compete with planes of French-Italian aircraft maker Avions de Transport Rgional (ATR), a leading exporter of turbo-prop aircraft to the Indian sub-continent.

In August 2007 the program director of the country's first self-built aircraft SARAS said India might fly its own indigenously built 70-seater civilian aircraft in another seven to eight years. "We are already in the planning stages for a 70-seater aircraft. In another seven to eight years, we should be flying our own big aircraft," SARAS program director MS Chidananda stated.

A meeting was held on the 29 February 2008 with the Directors and senior scientists of various laboratories/institutes of CSIR, DRDO, DAE. The meeting was intended to appraise the various R & D organizations of the technology needs of the Regional Transport Aircraft (RTA 70). Dr Kota Harinarayana had joined NAL as a Raja Ramanna Fellow and was spearheading the Regional Transport Aircraft project. Dr Kota Harinarayana presented an overview of the regional transport aircraft program detailing the need for a new generation aircraft based on a market demand for an aircraft with low fuel burn, ownership and maintenance costs. Technologies required in the form of a laminar flow wing, hydrophobic coatings, use of low cost composites, fly-by-wire controls, advanced avionics that will enable use of ill-equipped airfields, integrated vehicle health monitoring etc. Presentations from NAL scientists and consultants from the RTA group followed on RTA aerodynamics, super hydrophobic coatings, morphing and the use of SMA for high lift devices and maintenance for civil aircraft. On the airframe, presentations on structural technologies required, use of piezo and SMA related smart materials for flutter and gust control, structural topology, structural health monitoring (SHM) and low cost composites were made. Architectures for avionics, active noise control systems flight control systems (fly by wire) and synthetic vision were described. Utility systems including ECS, all electric systems etc, were also described.

In August 2008 former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam said that India can produce small passenger jets by 2020. For this, India needs to make optimum use of its technology in the aero-space sector. Kalam, popularly called the father of India's missle program, was addressing a gathering of students at Amity University in Nodia. "India has to work for 70-seater aircraft. It should be so designed that with only change in fuselage length it could vary the passenger capacity to 50 or 90.... With the technology available, production of 70-seater passenger aircraft before 2020 is possible. This will lead to a business volume of $15 billion," Dr Kalam said.

In October 2008 the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), which audits and assists the state and central institutions on their accounts and accountability, told the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) defer plans to make a 70-seater passenger plane on account of delayed progress on its 15-seater Saras aircraft. "Keeping in view the problems faced by NAL in HANSA and SARAS projects relating to marketing of the aircrafts, difficulties in finding an industrial partner and lack of specialised manpower, NAL may review initiation of the new project for development of a 70 seater aircraft."

In September 2008 India embarked on its second project to develop an indigenous 70 to 110-seater regional transport aircraft. At a meeting chaired by Defence Minister A.K. Antony it was decided to undertake the project with foreign collaboration, with state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. playing the anchor role. Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, Secretary - Pradeep Kumar, Private Secretary to Prime Minister T.K.A. Nair, Space Commission chairman G. Madhvan Nair, HAL chairman Ashok Baweja and representatives of the Defence Research and Development Organisation - and the civil aviation ministry also attended the meeting.

The proposed aircraft will have 70 to 110 seats and a range of 3,000 km. The aircraft will be developed keeping in mind the regional and domestic traffic. Estimated to cost Rs.40 billion, the aircraft will be developed within six years of the details being finalised. While the foreign collaborator has not yet been identified, it could be Brazil's Embraer or China's Avic, both of which manufacture regional transport aircraft. This is the second time India is venturing into the sector after an agreement with Russia to develop a Medium Transport Aircraft that has both military and civilian applications.

NAL displayed its indigenous aircraft and the scaled models at INDIA AVIATION : 2008 held at Begumpet airport, Hyderabad between 15 -18 October 2008. The mock up models of Regional Transport Aircraft (RTA 70) and size to size mockup model of NM5 aircraft were also displayed at the exhibition in HALL B number 14 of the NAL stall.





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