On a wing and a prayer.
It's been a 17-year-wait. Amol Yadav made his first airplane in 2003. It went as far as a taxi test. His third aircraft – a six-seater named TAC003 – has done a taxi test and is awaiting permission from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), which regulates who flies in India's airspace, to take off. Says the Senior Commander with Jet Airways: "Building an airplane is not impossible. It's difficult, but not impossible." The impossible bit appears to be getting it off the ground.
His six-seater TAC003 has a 350 horse-power engine, capable of reaching speeds of 192 knots (about 355 km per hour). It can reach an altitude of 13,000 feet and has a range of up to 1,200 km.
Despite the delay, Yadav is hopeful. Since building the TAC003 (a reference to his aviation company Thrust Aircraft Pvt Ltd), he has been liaising with the Maharashtra Government, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and former Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. He believes it’s a matter of time before the DGCA clears TAC003's maiden flight. Meanwhile, Yadav has begun work on the prototype for TAC005, a 19-seater aircraft that already has potential buyers showing interest. Like his earlier attempts, Yadav will build this one too on the terrace of his building in Charkop, a suburb in Mumbai.(In case you are wondering, the TAC004 is a design for an indigenous fighter jet.
"My team (of 42 members) works on the body, and we get a fabricator to build the parts from aluminium alloy. The TAC005 is designed with a Pratt and Whitney engine and Rockwell Collins navigations systems. The prototype will take another 12 months or so to build, if the finance comes through. After that, we plan to start producing more for buyers."
He has won admirers. “Capt Yadav had the guts to dream; he comes from a middle-class family but he has put his all resources into this,” says Kapil Kohal, Senior Captain at Air India. Kohal, who has seen the TAC003, says that despite the ‘crude’ finish and look of a ‘makeshift aircraft, “we should remember that what he has created is a test platform that needs to be encouraged and taken forward.”
But the bigger challenge is ahead. “I would say that out of 100 steps that he needs to achieve before being able to sell an aircraft, he has completed the first three,” adds Kohal who has over 15,000 hours of flying experience.
A lot of Yadav's plan are hinged on a wing and a prayer. The TAC003, the completed six-seater, is now parked at Mumbai's international airport because GVK, the airport's operator, is lending him space for free. Building the TAC005 prototype – even after most of the research and development and design is being done by friends and acquaintances pro bono – will cost Yadav ₹50 crore, money that he doesn't have yet.
The Maharashtra government has promised to give Yadav access to 159 acres of land in Palghar, 87 km north off Mumbai. "While the State wants to support me, it can't give money to private individuals. So the Chief Minister's office is trying to loan me money through a bank and once that comes through, I will be able to build aircraft on this land through a joint venture with the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation," Yadav explained.
What about corporate sponsorships? Or even financing from MAB Aviation, an air charter company that has shown interest in the TAC005? "Not really, nobody's come forward yet," Yadav said, although he is strangely confident that his plans to manufacture and sell aircraft will work out.
"The difficulty is in convincing people that I can build a safe aircraft, getting permissions to build it and then proving to them that it can fly. People accepting that this can be done in India, that's really the problem," says the 41-year-old.
Yadav's timing with the TAC005 may just be right, though, as the Modi Government is keen to encourage air transport with the UDAN scheme that will promote low-cost regional connectivity.
The possibilities for smaller aircraft in India are endless, Yadav says as he lays them out. "There are more than 30 airports in Maharashtra; nearly every district has one and if these are brought up to speed, you need smaller airplanes that can connect every single district in the state.
That will help Yadav build a safety record, says Kohal, as this is critical for corporate airlines to be interested.
“He needs the help of a public institution or the government to buy the first 10 products.... Why is it that Boeing and Airbus have the monopoly in aircraft manufacturing? They have built a safety and performance record over decades,” says Kohal.
Meanwhile, Yadav is waiting to make India’s Boeing or Airbus.