Can Indian Aerospace Companies Think Bigger for the FUTURE….!

Written by: Ashok Sanmani
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Since late 1960 transport aircrafts are in operation till then many changes have occurred in the design and development of commercial aircraft industry. Boeing (US), Airbus (Europe), Bombardier (Canada), Embraer (Brazil) is the major companies produces regional transport and commercial aircrafts in single-asle, twin-asle and long range categories.

Recently Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japan), Comac (China) are the other companies who are into design and development of single-asle aircrafts.

Single asle aircrafts with its different variants travel ranges from 3000km to 5500km with seating capacity of 80 to 220; twin-asle long range commercial aircrafts travel ranges from 10500km to 14000km with seating capacity of 330 to 550.

Latest aircrafts Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 ranges up to 17500km. Airbus A380 is the largest commercial aircraft in the world which has seating capacity up to 800 in class I category with range up to 15700km. Airbus and Boeing are the companies who makes long range commercial aircrafts.

Bombardier, Embraer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Comac are the companies makes the single-asle regional jets and transport category aircrafts along with Boeing & Airbus.

This detail helps us to understand the depth of the aviation industry. Worldwide flights produced 705 million tonnes of CO2 in 2013. Globally humans produced over 36 billion tonnes of CO2. In 2013, over 3 billion passengers were carried by the world's airlines.

Over 58 million people are employed in aviation and related tourism. Of this, 8.7 million people work directly in the aviation industry.

Advanced materials playing significant role

Along with aerodynamic improvements, advanced design techniques and manufacturing engineering, advanced materials (composite materials and third generation aluminum alloys) are playing significant role in the design and development of commercial aircrafts. Most of the engineers who works in aerospace filed agrees that composite materials provides better structural strength at lighter weight which leads to improve fuel efficiency and performance of an aircraft.

Major aircraft manufacturing countries like US, Europe, Canada and Embraer have invested significant amount of time, money and effort in building and developing competencies and technology. From last one plus decade, the use of advanced materials in commercial aircrafts have gone up from 10 percentage to 50 plus percentage this helped aircraft manufacturers to achieve pretty good results. The use of the advanced materials percentage has gone up due to factors like; structural efficiency, reduced emissions, less fuel burn, future demand.

Use of these materials has shown good success in the aviation industry. Both premier commercial aircraft manufacturing companies in the world Airbus and Boeing claims that, use of composite materials on both aircrafts A350 and 787 have reduced weight of approximately up to 20% which brings less fuel consumption for comparable missions than today's similarly sized airplane. Apart from weight, the use of composite will also bring more pleasant environment for passengers as it will allow considerate increase in cabin humidity.

Inspired by this other players like Canadian Bombardier, Brazilian Embraer, Japanese Mitsubishi Heavy Industries are in the similar line of thinking to build their aircraft lighter and everyone says composite is the future. Weight reduction is the main advantage of composite material usage and is one of the key factors in decisions regarding its selection to meet such challenging target.
Concerns of Composite Materials

There is no area without challenges. Like any other things composite materials do have some concerns like bearing strength issues, delamination, ply drop-off, lightning, post-buckling and biggest concern for composite material is maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO). Maintenance requirements of composite are very different from those of metals and most MRO companies do not have much experience of maintaining composite structures. But, many of the aircraft manufacturing companies have found the solutions for most of the concerns and some are in the process.

Position of India and Indian companies

The achievement of India in design and development of commercial aircraft is very minimal compared to the countries like United States of America, Europe, Canada, and Brazil. We are also quite behind compared to the countries like Japan and China probably Russia as well. Since last more than 15 years, many engineering services companies have emerged in India.

Except few major, most of the companies focused on low-end work with staff augmentation business model could hardly manage to get high-end technical work. In the last many years no Indian company could manage to get work package in design-to-build category. Engineering services companies owned by private people are having very good opportunity since they are working with pioneers of transport aircraft makers like Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Embraer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries etc. either directly or through tier1 and tier 2 companies.

The engineering services companies within the country should work towards building competencies in different domains and in different phases of aircraft design. Building competencies should become ‘habit' instead of ‘hobby'. These companies should approach the customers with more confidence with right competencies/ technology/process/methods/people/structure etc. even to achieve revenue targets.

What probably can be done in more effective way....

  • To keep aerospace engineering alive in more effective way, engineering companies should stop comparing engineering business with IT business in terms of technology development, time in achieving results, investments, infrastructure and returns, billing rates etc. because both are incomparable business areas. Probably this could be one of the reasons for the present situation.
  • More meaningful collaborations should happen between the government companies and private companies. Government companies have fairly good knowledge at product level and private companies have got better exposure and experience on the international process & methods by working on international programs/projects. Government companies should come forward to outsource more work to private companies this helps to increase the level of expertise of both parties.
  • Aerospace engineering companies should focus to produce more good ‘engineers' and ‘leaders' compared to managers and PMPs (Project Management Professional).
  • Engineering companies within India should campaign to encourage engineering students (aeronautical/ aerospace/ mechanical) to choose engineering field rather than IT field. After studying four years graduation or plus two years master's graduation the above mentioned engineering students are choosing IT field to find their career this quite disappointing news for the engineering industry within our country.
  • Universities and the colleges should work more closely with engineering companies. Together should carry out more research and experiments; the experimental results should help the industry to solve the practical problems and this becomes asset for the industry and the country.
  • India shall think of taking up the new project ‘design & development of transport aircraft' up 100 seating capacity. As per the prediction by both Airbus and Boeing approximately 34000 aircrafts would be needed by 2031 to meet the world requirements (6% Regional Jets, 68% Single-asle, 24% Twin-asle (24%) and 2% Large aircrafts). In this, close 40 plus percentage of aircrafts would alone be needed from India and China based on the growth and population.
  • Future Opportunities
  • From the available sources most of the current and future programs in the international market are either derivatives of baseline version or modifications of existing successful aircrafts, claims to bring increased efficiency with less fuel burn and light weight. In all these programs new engines will be fit which surely improves the efficiency and brings modification of pylon/re-designing of the same and in some aircrafts this change calls for the modification of centre wing box (CWB).
  • These aircrafts will also be retrofit with performance improve devices like Sharklet/Winglet which helps to improve efficiency and also extend the range; carry's more payloads, takeoff from limited airports and brings some save on fuel burn.
  • The engineering companies within country will have to be more serious to participate in the above mentioned programs. The reason because, all the current programs which are under design and development are expected to enter into service between 2017- 2020. Going by this data, major engineering activities are expected to happen from now and 2017 and have very less time around 3-4 years to prepare ourselves and get ready to participate in those programs. This gives an opportunity to improve the expertise level from the current standards which also helps to work on the future Indian programs.
  • As indicated by most of the aircraft manufacturing companies, advanced materials will play huge role in the upcoming programs. The environmental obstacle that confronts the aviation industry is, perhaps, the greatest it has faced in its 100 year history, the adoption of CFRP (carbon fibre reinforced composite) being one facet of the industry's plan to surmount it.

Last Bite

I personally feel that, 2014 is quite late compared to the world happenings in this sector. Indian companies should focus and invest in building strong competencies, technology in the design and development of transport category aircrafts and position our self in comfortable situation. Engineering companies should produce good engineers for the future to work either on international programs or Indian programs in case if India takes up new programs.

At least from now....... Will the Aerospace Engineering Companies within India think in different perspective......!

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