Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., a unit of Lockheed Martin Corp., is in talks with startup airlines in India to sell its small, twin-turboprop M28 planes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to boost air travel in remote parts of the country with subsidies.
The company, known for its helicopters, has offered to build the passenger planes in India if it gets enough scale, Sikorskyâ€™s Regional Executive for India and South Asia A.J.S. Walia said in an interview. The PZL M28 Skytruck is currently built in Poland and is in commercial operations only in Guam.
â€œWe are looking at India to be our introduction to the commercial market,â€ Walia said on the sidelines of an air show in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru. â€œWe are talking to customers — and these customers, if I put all together — itâ€™s a substantial number of aircraft requirement,â€ he said, declining to elaborate.
Sikorsky is pitching the 19-seat aircraft for short-haul routes amid attempts by the Indian government to encourage airlines to link towns lacking infrastructure, and in some cases even proper runways. As an incentive, Modi has pledged to absorb part of the losses incurred from plying unserved, unprofitable routes. Walia said the M28 may fit in the plan as it can handle grassy and unpaved surfaces with short take-off and landing.
“Thatâ€™s exactly the kind of aircraft you need for the regional connectivity scheme to succeed,” said Kapil Kaul, South Asia CEO at CAPA Centre for Aviation. India needs “a few hundred” planes in the next five to seven years that can seat 30 people or less, Kaul said.
Only about 75 out of Indiaâ€™s 450 airports or airstrips have regular commercial operations. The government has already got bids from airlines to connect 55 airports under Modiâ€™s program, civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said at the show.
If India can open 50 unserved or underserved airports within the next two to three years and retain the current world-beating pace of passenger growth, the nation will become the worldâ€™s third-largest aviation market after the U.S. and China by 2022, Raju said.
Modi is also trying to lure the worldâ€™s biggest manufacturers to make their products in India to help create jobs in the $2.1 trillion economy. Sikorskyâ€™s parent, the worldâ€™s biggest defense contractor, has offered to make its F-16 fighter jets in India if it wins an order, while Boeing Co. has said it is looking to sell locally made F/A-18 planes.
Sikorsky has made a presentation to the the Indian government, showing its willingness to produce the aircraft in India if it gets enough scale, Walia said.
“What we conveyed was that numbers will dictate â€˜Make in India,â€â€™ Walia said. â€œIt has to be commercially, economically viable for us to start the production in India,â€ he said, declining to say how big an order it needs.