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SOURCE: NARAYAN APTE/ FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) have submitted a proposal for the development of 90–110-seater Regional Transport Aircraft (RTA) and waits for a nod for the approval of the same from the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Science and Technology, and Civil Aviation, also from Ministry of Finance.

Post Pandemic situation in aviation circle and lack of any proper feasibility industrial study of the sale opportunity in the country, this proposed aircraft, the very first from a company that has not much behind to showcase can turn into another white elephant, wasting taxpayers money, since Government itself want to exist the commercial airline space in the county by disinvestment of the national airliner Air-India. The government of India needs to see that Chinese commercial planes in the same category, that have failed to sell abroad due to tighter civil aviation regulations and tight corporation between big daddies of the civilian plane manufacturers, thus planes have been limited to domestic routes.

In, India, unlike China where most of the privately-owned domestic civil airline companies are somewhat indirectly related to the grand old communist party and in a way are forced to procure them, the government of India doesn’t have the same liberty to force, private civil operators in the country to procure RTA-90 for its domestic route. CSIR-NAL might claim it will be cheaper to own and will have lower operating costs but that is not how civilian airline operators work in India.

Low-budget airline companies in India usually have the same type of fleet to avoid the additional cost of Pilot training and workmanship. some turboprop planes on the domestic route are exclusively flown by short-haul plane manufacturers like ATR. To break even, CSIR-NAL will need to sell at least 50-60 planes in India and also get all the European and American civil authorities approval for sale abroad, which the Chinese have learned the hard way, is simply not easy for countries that are keen to protect their plane manufacturers.

Their is considerable fear that the military might become an easy target that might be forced to procure them to make up for the orders, after officials from , CSIR-NAL told media that, they want government backing and support to sell them in India, but the plane designed with the intent to be used for commercial operations will limit its role to be used as a forced multiplier like AWACS, Mid-air refueling, and SIGINT, etc., that again will mean smaller requirements from the airforce and navy.

Even if RTA comes with a rear ramp door for transportation roles, again it will limit where it can be used and what it can carry, unlike military transport aircraft that are specifically designed for transportation and have many unique features such as short takeoff and landing in uneven airfields as some of the features that RTA won’t have, post Saras-Mk2 program that has some potential to be used by military operators and might even find customers for shorter routers, but same can’t be said about RTA that has a lot of competition from foreign companies. Russians have used this model and found little success but the Chinese and Russians have failed to sell their commercial planes abroad and that should come as a wake up call for India, why it is not easy to wrestle with the big daddies that are backed by governments that are keen to protect that turf. Before go head is given, CSIR-NAL should have MOU or Purchase interest for at least 30 aircrafts from Private operators first.

But CSIR-NAL working on dedicated Medium Transport Aircraft in the same category has now abandoned the Indo-Russian MTA program with 20-ton payload capacity to replace the An-32 fleet in IAF, might be a better program, that will see considerable orders from the IAF and Navy which later can be turned into civilian conversion to be used on short routes, instead of going the other way around, that have more risks due to uncertainties in the civilian market that are pre-programmed to procure what is already in their present fleet, Military on aboard might set the base to sell around 60-80 planes that will give, civilian operators in India to back the program at later stage. Remember only successful product of CSIR-NAL in last 30 years is selling of few Hansa trainer aircraft to various flying clubs in India.

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