India's first indigenous regional aircraft, the RTA-70, could be
powered by turbofan engines, with the government viewing it as a
stepping stone to larger aircraft.
Although the RTA-70 (regional transport aircraft-70) was originally
envisaged as a 70- to 90-seat turboprop, the Indian government asked
National Aerospace Laboratories to investigate the use of turbofans.
NAL is studying the two options, and will report to the government in
April 2011, after which a decision will be made.
"The government asked us to look at the turbofan option, and after
we conduct a feasibility study, we will decide," says NAL director AR
Upadhya. "Previously, we were focusing only on a high-wing turboprop
design. If all goes well, by the end of 2011 we will have full go-ahead
to create the aircraft."
NAL has been in talks with jet engine producers, including General
Electric, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce and Snecma. It says all have
shown interest in the project.
"Initially, we were looking only at the turboprop option because of
the high price of fuel," says Upadhya. "Lifecycle costs were our key
concern. The government then asked us to look at the turbofan option,
because they see it as a stepping stone to the high end."
NAL foresees demand for regional aircraft in India reaching 250 by
2025. This is driven by India's increasingly wealthy middle class, and
its demand for flights on low-cost carriers. In addition, industries
are moving into India's smaller cities, increasing the viability of
regional flights to those destinations.
NAL also sees possible demand for 150 military variants to replace the Indian air force's Antonov An-32 fleet.
Irrespective of the RTA-70's powerplant, it is likely to come in two
variants - a shorter one with 70-90 seats and a longer one with 80-100
seats. Its range will be 1,350nm (2,500km), suitable for most long
sectors in India. Avionics are likely to be produced locally, and
include an indigenous fly-by-wire control system to save weight.
Upadhya estimates the aircraft could be in service as soon as 2017,
and NAL is open to international and local partners. The aircraft would
be produced by government-owned Hindustan Aeronautics.
If India were to produce the RTA-70 as a jet, it would find itself
in the increasingly crowded field of 50- to 100-seat regional jets.
Competitors would include the Bombardier CSeries, Comac ARJ21 Embraer's
E-Jets and the Sukhoi Superjet.