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Saras flies in Bangalore against all odds

India's 15-seater aircraft Saras. BNS Photo

NEW DELHI (BNS): India's quest for producing its own civil aircraft is proving to be a never ending dream as the country's engineers are still far away from serialising production of homemade 15-seater turbo-prop Saras.

The twin engine aircraft, which is under production since 20 years, is yet to be certified for air worthiness by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. A flight demonstration of Saras was held at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited airport in Bangalore last month before Defence Minister a K Antony.

But engineers were not sure when the aircraft would be ready for commercial sales. A number of hurdles have to be cleared before reaching the final stage. The Indian government auditors, who file annual accounts report of each government department in Parliament, are not satisfied with the way the project is being handled by National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL).

In its latest report, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) commented that NAL had bought 850 shift horsepower engines for Saras though 1200 SHP was required to get certificate from the authorities. The aircraft also does not have key components like auto-pilot system. Even the 28 seats bought have not been fitted into the aircraft.

With Saras programme not going anywhere, the CAG felt the government should think twice before starting a new programme to develop a 70-seat regional transport aircraft. The government has already lost millions of dollars on development of 15-seater Saras.

At the recently held flight demonstration in Bangalore, the aircraft performed a variety of manoeuvres including low level flying and various other challenging procedures.

India had planned to make 70-seater regional jet in collaboration with Russia. Apart from the civil aircraft, India has been planning to develop its own fighter jet for the last 20 years. The fighter jet, known as Light Combat Aircraft, would not be able to join the Indian Air Force before 2011.

The engineers were looking for new engines to power the fighter jet. The first batch of LCAs will run on low powered GE engines. India is on the lookout for a new engine in the global market.

It is still long before India would be able to develop its own gas turbine engine. The indigenous project to develop Kaveri gas turbine engine has run into rough weather with officials thinking that the effort has reached a dead end. In all possibility, the project is likely to be scrapped.

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