Wednesday, January 20, 2016

After 16 Years and Rs 300 Crore, Civil Aircraft Dream Crashlands

Bengaluru:  India’s most ambitious civilian aircraft project has been given a quiet burial. Rs 300 crore was spent on the project, started way back in 1999 to build an indigenous 14-seater aircraft that was expected to put India in the big league and pave the way for the development of bigger passenger airplanes in future.
Bengaluru-headquartered National Aeronautics Limited (NAL) has stopped all work on Saras, the mutli-role aircraft that was named after the Indian crane. The planes already built have remained grounded and those working on the project have been redeployed.
NAL is part of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) headed by the prime minister.

Confirming that work on the project has been completely stopped, NAL director Shyam Chetty told Express: “Funding for the project stopped from December 31, 2013, but the work went on much beyond. Eventually, we had to stop the work when we ran out of lab funds. It was a Rs 300 crore project.”

“People who were working on the Saras project were redeployed for other projects where skills sets required are similar as NAL takes up lots of work in the strategic sector,” he said.

The aircraft made its maiden flight in 2004, but the project has always been plagued with glitches. Weight was a major concern as the aircraft was overweight by 1,000 kg. In fact, during the maiden flight, all seats except three — for two pilots and a flight test engineer — were removed to bring down the weight.
A turning point for the project was when a Saras aircraft on test flight crashed in 2009, killing two pilots and a flight test engineer from the Indian Air Force. IAF’s Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment located close to the HAL airport in Bengaluru was conducting tests and the aircraft was carrying out an ‘engine relight’ procedure when it crashed. The project never fully recovered from that crash.
The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) came out with a report 18 months after the crash. “The DGCA report made it clear that there were no problems with the aircraft or its design. However, those heading CSIR at that point were not too keen on the project, so it never received the kind of encouragement it should have got,” a former NAL officer who was associated with the project told Express. “The flight testing resumed in 2012. But, we had only one aircraft.
20/01/16 Ramu Patil/Indian Express
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