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Plane plans with Russia role take off

Bangalore, Nov. 14: Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is set to team up with a Russian aerospace major for joint design and manufacture of a multi-role transport aircraft.

HAL and Irkutsk Aviation Corporation, Siberia, plan to break into the market with two versions ' a 100-seater passenger jet and a cargo version with the capacity to ferry 18 to 20 tonnes.

The two companies, which are eyeing the multi-billion-dollar global market, believe the worldwide demand for the passenger jet version will be at least 400.

To start with, they plan to roll out 100-odd aircraft of the cargo version for the Indian Air Force and the Russian Air Force. 'The project report is ready in all respects. The IAF wants 45 of these aircraft (to replace the ageing Russian AN-32 transport fleet), while the Russians are looking for 60 or more,' N.R. Mohanty, chairman of the Bangalore-based HAL, told The Telegraph.

'The design specifications are finalised. We are waiting for a firm commitment of 60-plus from the Russians before a formal launch. To make the project economically viable, we need orders of 100-plus aircraft,' the official added.

Mohanty said the two companies had agreed to acquire the engine to power these multi-role transport aircraft from a third company to help them meet deadlines. 'We will share our expertise in designing the aircraft, but will source the engine from elsewhere as we cannot spend much time on a new engine. We plan to achieve the first flight certification in six years from the date of a formal go-ahead by the two governments. They (the Russians) have sophisticated test facilities and that will help us work against deadlines,' he said.

According to current estimates, the project would require a budget of $350 million to be shared by the two firms. Officials said HAL's innovative design solutions in metal and composite materials and Irkutsk's expertise in aircraft manufacturing would ensure a sturdy fuselage which would, at the same time, be lighter than in conventional aircraft and thus increase fuel efficiency.

In the 100-seater category, the multi-role aircraft would compete with Boeing 717, Airbus 318 and Embraer 190 (Brazil). The cargo version, the two companies believe, would find sufficient takers as replacements for the Franco-German Transall C-160 and AN 12 and AN 26 of Russia.

Irkutsk has a partnership with HAL for production of the twin-seater Sukhoi-30 MKIs and upgrading of 18 Su-30K fighters, originally delivered to the Indian Air Force by the Sukhoi Design Bureau, Moscow. 'The Su-30 (MKI) production is on schedule. We will deliver two fighters to IAF this financial year,' Mohanty said.

The HAL chairman said the company's designers were also working on a light combat helicopter for the armed forces. 'We expect the government to clear the project before the end of this financial year. The first prototype will fly within 26 months of the formal approval from the government. The IAF has shown interest but has not specified the requirement (in terms of number of helicopters),' he said.

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