Thursday 26 May 2022
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When will India make a dent in the civilian aircraft market?

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This question has hung over our claims to competitiveness in international manufacturing for many years. On the one hand, India is emerging as one of the biggest markets for civilian planes — big and small — on the other, it seems it is our fate to be a happy hunting ground for foreign suppliers.

'I congratulated the scientists and technicians of the institution for developing products of wide acceptability.'
‘I congratulated the scientists and technicians of the institution for developing products of wide acceptability.’

The civil aviation business in India requires 19-seat, 30-seat, 50-seat and 70-seat aircraft as air traffic grows on regional routes. At long last, we have a government under the visionary leadership of Narendra Modi, which has decided to do something to put in place a short-to-medium term goal to ensure that domestic manufacturers get a slice of this market.

Last week, I was honoured to pay a visit to the National Aerospace Laboratory in Bengaluru, which was founded in 1959 with the goal of establishing India in the aircraft and aircraft spares businesses. It is part of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) family.

The National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL) here has put its projects to design and manufacture several types of planes on the fast track. The NAL is already far down the road in putting in the market the HANSA-3, a two-seat, all-composite plane and the SARAS, a 14-seat light plane. The prototypes of these two aircraft have attracted a lot of attention at international air shows.

In September 2011, all doubts about India’s ability to manufacture aircraft were laid to rest after the prototype of the five-seater C-NM5 completed a maiden flight to Australia. Four years have passed and we are now resolved to make this aircraft available in the market for small planes.

Mahindra Aerospace is NAL’s partner in the project. It is ideal as a trainer for student pilots, cargo transportation, medical evacuation, tourism and VIP travel.

When I was briefed on the developments, it dawned on me that the Indian aerospace industry is one of the fastest growing in the world. There is huge potential for CSIR-NAL’s development because along with large planes, the demand for small carriers is also on the rise given the expanding market of high net worth individuals.

I am convinced that there is a huge potential for the C-NM5 because it comes with a tag of under Rs 1.5 crore. Today there are some models of cars selling for about that price in India. We have to establish this plane as a safe and reliable brand.

I congratulated the scientists and technicians of the institution for developing products of wide acceptability. These include India’s largest autoclave for airworthy composite processing; the first indigenous trannsmmissometer (DRISHTI) which is used for measuring airport runway visibility; the first indigenous electronic target (DHVANI) for the Indian Army; numerous technologies for Radome design, for active noise control, smart materials and surface modifications.

I am happy to note that these success stories are the result of our scientists’ ability to think out of the box. This is the zeal demanded by the ‘Make in India’ mission launched by the Prime Minister.

CSIR-NAL technologies that have significant societal impact — solar selective coating for industrial and domestic solar water heaters, coatings to enhance tool wear resistance and wind–solar hybrid wind turbine system to power off remote areas.

Last year, CSIR-NAL bagged the prestigious “Best Laboratory Award” of Brahmos Aerospace, a joint venture of DRDO and Government of Russia. I am sure that with effective synergy with the private sector, the credibility of our scientists would be transferred to the aircraft once they hit the market.

I spent considerable time at the laboratories of CSIR-NAL –the Advanced Composites Division, Acoustic Test Facility (ATF), National Trisonic Aerodynamic Facility (NTAF), Micro Air Vehicle Aerodynamics Tunnel and the SARAS Flight Simulator. I also met representatives of the private sector as well as those from government bodies supported by CSIR-NAL.

I was briefed on CSIR-NAL’s continuous programme under which its scientists improve their capabilities and credentials. Currently there are about 12 scientists enrolled in Masters and 55 in programmes. In addition the laboratory provides special opportunities to the underprivileged categories of our society under the Dr. Ambedkar Trade Training Programme for 40 students each year.

Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Science & Technology, and of Earth Sciences

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