Kochi: In the first-ever transcontinental aviation joint venture (JV), India and Russia are joining hands to manufacture a medium-capacity passenger aircraft, capable of competing with other western models in the international market.
The first fleet is expected to fly out of Nasik, where the Indo-Russian Aviation Pvt Ltd will be based, by 2006. While the Indian partner in the joint venture will be Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Russia will be represented by majors like Ilyushin Aviation Complex, Irkutsk Aviation Industrial Association and Rosoboronexport.
The first round of talks in this regard was held when Irkutsk Aviation chief Alexi Federov visited Bangalore recently. The understanding is expected to be concretised when Russian President Vladimir Putin visits India in November 2002.
The Indo-Russian company will bring together aviation expertise in both the countries to co-design, co-develop and co-produce cargo as well as world-class passenger aircraft.
Sources say the blueprint of the cargo aircraft, to be named Multirole Transport Aircraft, has already been drawn. It would have a capacity of 15 to 20 tonnes and will replace the ageing fleet of AN-32s of the Air Force.
What attracted Russia to co-author this chapter in aviation history is the breakthrough Indian scientists have achieved in the field of composite materials, especially carbon composites. India has also made great strides in avionics and other branches of aviation electronics. Russia had recently cleared Vetrivel, an avionics package developed by HAL, for use in Sukhoi class fighters.
Aviation experts are of the view that the Indo-Russian aircraft will offer immense challenge to current players. This plane will be cheaper compared to other models as we have developed materials that cost very less. Also, we are adopting a new design philosophy whereby equipment suppliers will be risk-sharing partners so that the project cost can be kept low, the sources say.
Indo-Russian Aviation is a $350-million project. The production of aircraft will be simultaneously carried out in Irkutsk, Russia, and Nasik. Parts that are made in Irkutsk will later be brought to Nasik for assembling. Both the countries are planning to make more than 100 aircraft, each worth $15 million, by 2006.
Aviation pundits are foreseeing a considerable presence of these aircraft in Indian domestic service towards 2010. Air-India may not be interested in it due to a limited passenger capacity. But we are sure that Indian Airlines (IA) will find it a highly economical proposition, the sources add. We may be interested. But its too early to commit, says an IA official.
In the meantime, another similar JV between India and Russia is quietly progressing in Bangalore. Called Saras, the project aims at manufacturing 25-seater passenger aircraft. The next edition of Saras, the sources say, may also attempt a 50-seater aircraft.