Thursday, October 12, 2017

Red tape kills Mumbai pilot's dream to build India's first 19-seater aircraft

Mumbai: An Indian pilot’s quest to fly an aircraft that he built on the rooftop of his house has become so entangled in red tape that after waiting for almost six years for approvals – even with the involvement of the Prime Minister’s Office – the frustrated aviator is preparing to head to the US with the project.
Amol Yadav, a pilot with a private airline who lives in Mumbai, thought he had everything going for his dream. He built a six-seater aircraft, which was featured in the government’s ‘Make in India’ programme, on the terrace of his Charkop home. He had the backing of the Maharashtra government, which, impressed with his efforts, offered him land and funds to build 19-seater planes. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had even apprised Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the project.
Yadav is now on the verge of completing his 19-seater aircraft, which would be the first to be built indigenously. That’s something the National Aerospace Laboratories hasn’t been able to achieve even after working for several years and sinking in crores of rupees.

Yet with his prototype a few months away from completion, Yadav is exasperated. His six-seater plane hasn’t taken off, which means his 19-seater aircraft project will be held up. All his efforts have been throttled by regulatory hurdles.

While the Maharashtra government has tied up with Yadav and plans to allot him land, it firsts wants a demonstration of the six-seater in flight. However, the aviation regulator has consistently refused to register Yadav’s aircraft over the years, effectively denying him the ability to demonstrate it can fly. Directorate General of Civil Aviation, according to the Maharashtra government, has created road blocks for the project even after the PMO put in a word.

After he applied to register his six-seater plane under the experimental aircraft category in 2011, DGCA kept dilly-dallying. In 2014, the regulator scrapped the experimental aircraft clause, would have enabled amateurs to build planes, from the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR), a set of regulations for the sector. The new rules allow only planes manufactured by companies to fly.
To resolve the issue, Fadnavis met Modi on April 14 in Nagpur and briefed him about Yadav’s aircraft. Following the discussions, the chief minister wrote to the PM about Yadav’s application pending with the DGCA. “He followed up regularly only to know that in July 2014, DGCA arbitrarily deleted this entire set of regulations making it impossible for anyone building experimental aircraft to apply for the same. It is not known why such a step was taken,” Fadnavis wrote.

Fadnavis met Modi again in New Delhi in the last week of April, following which Sanjeev Kumar Singla, the PM’s private secretary, was called in and asked to get involved with the DGCA.

Still, the DGCA refused to budge. In fact, the regulator uploaded a new draft CAR on August 28 with provisions that would ensure that no one in the country could hope to build an experimental aircraft.

One revised provision stipulates the maximum weight of a new aircraft should not exceed 1,500 kg, just below the 1,600 kg Yadav mentioned in his application. This is unusual because in countries that encourage aircraft manufacturing such as the US, there are no weight restrictions. The DGCA also states in several places that aircraft should be built as per minimum standards, without specifying what those norms are.
12/10/17 Krishna Kumar/Economic Times