India's ambitions to follow China's lead in challenging the West's civil aircraft manufacturers with its own products have been set back by the Mar. 6 fatal crash of the second prototype Saras - a 14-seat twin-turboprop designed by the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL). The aircraft, PT2, was on its 49th test flight when it crashed 40km from Bangalore, killing all three crewmembers.
Photo: National Aerospace Laboratories
The Saras has been criticized for being woefully overweight and behind schedule, and the crash is likely to spark further criticism of NAL's plans to follow the 14-seater with a 70- to 90-seat regional aircraft to be designed and developed jointly with Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL), India's state-owned military aircraft manufacturer.
The Saras first flew in 2004, and the first prototype exceeded its empty weight target by almost 25% (990kg). As a result, the original 850shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A pusher turboprops had to be replaced with 1,200shp versions in the second prototype. NAL is now building a third Saras, with a targeted 500kg weight reduction.
PT3 is not expected to fly before year-end, pushing Indian certification of the Saras into 2010, and any design changes resulting from the crash would delay things further. Indian media is quoting NAL as saying the program will go ahead, but the only customers so far identified are the "captive" Indian Air Force and Navy.
India's Comptroller and Auditor General strongly criticized NAL's performance late last year, recommending the proposed development of a 70-seat regional transport be reviewed in the light of the difficulties with the Saras and the limited success of NAL's first design, the Hansa trainer, only 10 of which were built.