If wishes had wings, scores of small aircraft sporting the Mahindra colours could be winging across Indian skies a few years down the line. Some would be made partly or fully near Bangalore.

It would be easily the first Indian effort at making and selling utility air vehicles.

In reality, at least three versions of small planes ‘priced economically’ should be flying out in three years for domestic users, according to Mr Arvind Mehra, CEO and Executive Director of Mahindra Aerospace P Ltd.

Mr Mehra told Business Line that MAPL would soon start developing its Rs 285-crore greenfield facility at Narsapur (near Kolar), about 40 km from Bangalore.

The plant, to be built on 20 acres, would start production in 12-18 months, initially for components and sub-assemblies. Eventually, the aircraft would be assembled in India and also the US, where there was scope to acquire small companies with certain expertise. It could mature into a market for over 300 small aircraft, he said.

The facility would have 1,000 employees in five years. Currently, a small core group was being recruited. The current programmes would involve an investment of around Rs 500 crore, including the Narsapur facility, and some of it would be spent in due course.

Tie up with Eurocopter

MAPL recently entered the helicopter arena when it tied up with Eurocopter to supply structures and for marketing general-use copters in the country. The aerospace arm of the Rs 31,000-crore automotive and software major aimed to be a respected tier-1 company giving value-for-money utility aircraft, as distinct from executive aircraft, Mr Mehra said.

The aircraft would be competitively priced; the 2-seater costs A$300,000 and the 8-seater A$750,000. In Australia, they have been used to render charity medical service, to lift people from the 2004 Indonesian tsunami or humanitarian relief.

The aerospace arm that was started in 2009 hoped to net buyers in the short-haul commuter, tourist, sports and other utility segments for its 2-, 8-, 10- and 18-seater planes. Each of them used different fuel and would appeal to different markets, he said.

Developing a five-seater

MAPL is also developing a five-seater, code-named NM5, with National Aerospace Labs under the CSIR. Mr Mehra said two prototypes of NM5 were ready and one was being tried out in Australia. The plane is expected to be out later this year.

The planes would continue to be built for some more time at the facility of its Australian acquisition, Gippsland Aeronautics. Gippsland makes and has globally sold over 250 of the 8- to 20-seaters. Mahindra has added a 10-seater and revived Gippsland's 18/20-seater aircraft, Mr Mehra said.

Parent Mahindra owns 67 per in MAPL and Kotak Private Equity the rest.

(This article was published on August 18, 2011)
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