Swiss company looks for 40 Dornier multi-utility aircraft from India

New Delhi, Oct 2 (IANS) In a sign of the growing confidence in India's aircraft manufacturing capabilities, Swiss-German RUAG Aviation is looking to purchase around 40 of the modernized version of the Dornier 228 multi-utility planes from state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

According to Thomas K Schilliger, vice president (Commercial Programmes) at RUAG Aviation, the acquisition will be dependent upon new technology insertions into the aircraft's manufacturing, for which his company would offer all possible assistance to its Indian partner.

HAL is already making the Dornier 228 under licence from RUAG, but the aircraft being made by HAL is of old, 1980s technologies.

The European requirement is for the new Dornier 228 NG (Next Generation), which has more powerful engines, five-blade composite propellers, contemporary glass cockpit and other gadgets for safety and both fuel and operational efficiency.

The new aircraft would mean less pilot fatigue and higher availability of the aircraft to the user.

The NG version has the newer Honeywell TPE331-10 engines, which are 25 percent more powerful than the Honeywell Garrett TPE-331-5-252D engines in the current Indian model. The new propellers are lighter and smaller in diameter, thereby reducing noise and adding to the safety factor.

The glass cockpit has only four MFDs (multi-function displays) instead of the vintage bank of panels.

Schilliger, who was recently in India, was quoted by India Strategic defence magazine (www.indiastrategic.in) as saying that RUAG would have no objection to HAL selling the new generation Dorniers to the Indian Air Force, Indian Navy and Coast Guard, which together ply some 120 aircraft but of the 1980s legacy.

RUAG's interest is to buy this aircraft in Next Generation upgraded version for European requirements. As RUAG has phased out its own Dornier facility, it has to source the aircraft from HAL.

The Indian company would be free to use the NG technologies for its own requirements, Schilliger said, adding that RUAG would provide all the technical assistance at no cost, and buy five to six aircraft per year in flyaway green condition - meaning any internal fitments or special systems would be installed in Germany. The company foresees a requirement of about 40 aircraft over the next few years, primarily for surveillance missions.

"If we were to begin today, the production process of this twin-engine turboprop in India along with HAL could begin next year itself with delivery from 2015 onwards," India Strategic quoted him as saying.

Financials have not been disclosed pending finalisation of the deal.

Meanwhile, the Indian defence ministry is reportedly considering a proposal for 54 more Dorniers for the Indian armed forces. It would be up to HAL to offer the old or the new versions, depending upon user requirements and costs involved.

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