Explained: Why defence aircraft manufacturer HAL is building a civilian aircraft for use in India

The 19-seater Hindustan-228 or the Do-228 is the first major attempt in India to develop a small civil transport aircraft after the 14-seater Saras aircraft development program was shelved in 2009.

Despite producing aircrafts like the Hindustan Trainer-2 and its variant – the Hindustan Propulsion Trainer 32 (HPT-32) – for the Indian Air Force six decades ago, and more recently the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for the IAF, the Indian aviation sector has not produced any civil transport aircraft.

On August 15, the public sector aircraft manufacturing company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) carried out a successful ground run and low speed taxi trials of a commercial aircraft – Hindustan-228 – for ‘Type Certification’ by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

The 19-seater Hindustan-228 or the Do-228 is the first major attempt in India to develop a small civil transport aircraft after the 14-seater Saras aircraft development program at the National Aeronautics Laboratory was shelved in 2009 on account of multiple problems in its development.

The type certification by the DGCA will enable HAL to get an international certification for the aircraft. The aircraft complies with airworthiness requirements prescribed by the US Federal Aviation Authority for ‘normal, utility, acrobatic and commuter’ planes, HAL has stated.

Why is HAL building a civil aircraft?

Small civilian aircrafts are considered to be an essential element of the UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik) scheme that the central government is attempting to put in place for regional connectivity.

Union civil aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said recently that the central government aims to set up 1,000 new air routes and establish 100 new airports, under the UDAN scheme. “Two civil demonstrators of Do-228 have already been made and are ready to be deployed in the North East and Uttar Pradesh, the two places where we want to start the UDAN scheme,” HAL Chairman R Madhavan said this week on the sidelines of a company CSR event. This Hindustan-228 can be utilized by civil operators and state governments for intra and inter-state connectivity with training, maintenance and logistics support from HAL.

Is the Hindustan-228 a spin off from any other aircraft?

The Hindustan-228 aircraft is built on the existing frame of the German Dornier 228 defence transport aircraft used by the defence forces. In February 2020, HAL received the modification document for the HAL Do-228 upgraded civil aircraft from DGCA at the DefExpo in Lucknow. Two civil Do-228 produced by HAL for launch under UDAN scheme have a maximum take off weight of 6200 kgs. In order for the transport aircraft to be flyable under Commercial Pilot License category HAL has to reduce the aircraft weight below 5700 Kgs.

HAL Do-228-201(Upgraded) civil aircraft is equipped with a digital cockpit which will ensure more accurate readings, precise information and ergonomic data displays with feedback loops and capability for self-check to alert pilots in emergencies.

What is the status of the development of the Hindustan 228?

The Do-228 fulfilled the requirement of a Light Transport Aircraft (LTA) within the defence forces.

HAL has produced a total of 125 Dornier 228 under license at Kanpur since 1983. On December 26, 2017 the DGCA cleared HAL Do-228 to be used for civilian flights.

HAL’s transport aircraft division at Kanpur is now manufacturing the Hindustan-228 aircraft to support the Regional Connectivity Scheme (UDAN) of the Government of India. On May 27, the first ground run of the first prototype of the aircraft was carried out. On August 15 ground trials and low speed taxi trials of the aircraft were carried out for type certification by the DGCA. HAL chairman R Madhavan told The Indian Express that HAL is now looking at international certification. “ The international certification has been taken up parallely. DGCA is onboard with us. We will go for a high speed trial very soon and will certify the aircraft. Once this is done it becomes more usable,” the chairman said.

What are the roles envisaged for the civilian Hindustan 228 aircraft?

The Hindustan-228 is conceived to be a multirole utility aircraft capable of being used for VIP transport, passenger transport, air ambulance, flight inspection roles, cloud seeding, recreational activities like para jumping, aerial surveillance, photography, remote sensing and cargo transport. With a maximum cruise speed of 428 kmph and a range of 700 kmph the aircraft is capable of night flying. HAL is looking forward to exporting the aircraft as well to countries like Nepal.

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What is the status of the Saras civilian aircraft project taken up in India in the 1990s?

The National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) was asked by the GoI in 2017 to revive development of its 14-seater Saras Mk2 aircraft under the UDAN scheme – after the project was halted in 2009 following a major crash which killed three test pilots. The second prototype of the Saras had flown 45 times and had even been presented at Aero India 2009 – a few days before it crashed.

The project was revived after analysis of the accident revealed the crash was a result of procedural lapses and not due to technical issues. The Saras – a 14-seater twin turboprop aircraft aimed at serving the maturing civil aviation market in India was initiated in the 1990s but was constantly plagued by controversies. The first prototype of the Saras which flew on May 29, 2004 was nearly 993 kg over weight on a proposed 4125 kg. The aircraft flew nearly 125 flights. Subsequently, an engine change cut the weight in the second prototype. But the aircraft crashed on March 6, 2009. A third prototype that was closer to the 4125 kg mark was in the pipeline in 2009 when the crash occurred.

The Saras program has received fresh impetus under the Make in India and UDAN programs of the NDA government. The development of Saras is projected as a precursor to the development of a proposed 70 seater Regional Transport Aircraft involving NAL and HAL that was initiated in 2013 but was subsequently shelved with HAL focussing on modifying the Dornier 228 aircraft for the civil aviation market in India.

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