India Eyeing Partnership with Embraer, Sukhoi to Make Small Jets Locally

Civil Aviation

New Delhi: In a move to boost air connectivity in the country, India is trying to ramp up its small-plane fleet as airports with limited capacity and short runways are not equipped to handle narrow-body planes of Airbus and Boeing that dominate the skies.

The government is eyeing partnership with global aircraft manufacturers, including Embraer SA and Russia’s Sukhoi to make small planes locally, according to media reports.

Quoting sources, the report said, the government will keep 51 per cent equity with an Indian firm, while asking the foreign partner to do technology transfer. The jets, which typically seat less than 100 people, are likely to be produced in Gujarat, the sources added.

India, which is world’s fastest-growing aviation market, is trying to ramp up its small-plane fleet as airports with limited capacity and short runways are not equipped to handle narrow-body planes of Airbus and Boeing that dominate the skies. This will help the government bolster tourism and facilitate faster access to remote areas in the country, which recently has been seen to surpass China in population.

The Centre mandates airlines operate at least 10 per cent of their capacity on remote routes, including Kashmir and the Northeast bordering China, which means smaller planes could be more efficient for airlines as they can fill a larger share of total seats. As part of a regional connectivity programme, India has allocated Rs 4,500 crore to develop 100 inadequately-served airports, heliports and water aerodromes, besides opening 1,000 new routes by next year.

Airbus SE estimates India will need 2,210 aircrafts by 2040 and 80 per cent of them will be smaller jets. The country has piqued global turboprop makers’ interest, with De Havilland Aircraft planning to seize 80 per cent of its market for smaller planes of less than 20 passengers.

India has completed preliminary discussions with Embraer, while Sukhoi has expressed interest in manufacturing regional jets locally, the sources said. In addition, the country has also approached ATR, a joint venture between Airbus and Leonardo SpA of Italy, to make in India, they added.

Embraer said India has “significant opportunities” for regional jets and the manufacturer “continuously looks for ways to collaborate with India to find win-win solutions”.

ATR’s small planes are the workhorse of regional routes in India with the nation’s top carrier, IndiGo, operating 39 of them. Rival De Havilland’s Dash-8 Q400 turboprops, which seat between 78 and 90 people, are operated by Spice Jet Ltd. State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. is already manufacturing the 19-seater Dornier 228 aircraft used by the armed forces and Alliance Air.