Monday, 14 February 2022

Ripe For Success: Turkish Involvement In Indonesia’s N219 And N245 Airliner Projects

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Türkiye's ambitions in the field of aviation have spawned advanced aircraft designs like the TF-X stealth fighter, the Hürjet advanced jet trainer and the T625 Gökbey helicopter. Equally great strides have been made in the design and production of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs), most notably the Bayraktar Akıncı and Kızılelma combat jet. Research, development and production of these designs (often within short timeframes) by Türkiye is impressive, showing just what teams of motivated engineers supported, but not micromanaged, by their government can achieve.
The country's aviation ambitions have not been limited to military designs alone. In 2015 Türkiye launched the TRjet project in cooperation with U.S.-based Sierra Nevada Corporation. TRjet was to spawn four models of passenger aircraft: a jet (TRJ328) and a turboprop (TR328) with 32 seats for short-haul flights, and a jet (TRJ628) and a turboprop (TR628) with up to 70 seats intended for medium-haul flights. TRJet aimed at selling 500 to 1,000 TRJ328 aircraft, with similar sales numbers projected for the TRJ628. [1] These numbers were highly optimistic, and ultimately not convincing enough to get the Turkish government to further invest in the programme, which was cancelled in 2017. [1]
While this put an end to short-term prospects for the establishment of a civilian aviation industry in Türkiye, it certainly did not end Ankara's long-term ambitions for the design and production of civilian aircraft. Reports at that time suggested that Türkiye would continue its plans to enter the commercial aircraft manufacturing industry, but would do so by looking at different investments with other countries. One of these countries is Ukraine, with which Türkiye discussed the possibility to develop airliners on multiple occasions, most notably in 2015 and 2020. [2] [3]
Indonesia is another country Türkiye has enjoyed close cooperation with in the aerospace sector. PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI) is currently developing the 19-seat N219 and the 54-seat N245 turboprop passenger aircraft. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is already involved in the development of both types, and deepening this cooperation could provide significant benefits for both Türkiye and Indonesia. [4] This article will attempt to explain Türkiye's case for reviving its domestic airliner ambitions through increased participation in the N219 and N245 projects.

While the N245 and especially the smaller N219 may initially seem like a downgrade from Türkiye's earlier jet airliner ambitions, the turboprop aircraft arguably carry a lower financial risk than the TRjet project while also being more likely to succeed in opportunity-rich overseas markets like Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. Türkiye's civilian jet ambitions could always be relaunched through collaboration with Antonov for the joint design and production of the An-178 and An-188 cargo aircraft, the significant potential of which we've covered in an earlier article on this website. [5]

An artist impression of the upcoming N245.

Before going into detail on the N219 and the N245, it's insightful to consider Indonesia's past aviation endeavours. In the 1976, Indonesia acquired the license to begin producing the Spanish C-212 cargo aircraft from CASA, with which it later also set out to jointly design the CN-235 military transport. Although the CN-235 was also marketed as a 50-seat airliner, it failed to captivate the audience it was designed for. Not to be deterred, IPTN (now PTDI) pressed on with a new programme for the development of a dedicated turboprop regional airliner named N250. The first prototype flew in 1995, followed by a stretched variant with a seating capacity of 70 passengers a year later. [6] While the project seemed highly promising, all work on the N250 project was halted in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which also put an end to the IPTN N2130 jet airliner programme that had just entered the early design phase.

After Indonesia's current President Joko Widodo took office in 2014, he immediately sought to increase Indonesia's efforts in the design of commercial aircraft. [7] Initially seeking to relaunch the N250 project by developing an updated version of the design, it was later decided to instead concentrate efforts on the ongoing N219 utility aircraft project and the N245, a 50-seat turboprop airliner variant of the CN-235. The latter design could be followed by a stretched version known as N270, which would be able to carry more than 70 passengers. [8] Around the same time, former Indonesian President and CEO of IPTN B. J. Habibie attempted to relaunch the N250 programme under a new name, the RegioProp R-80, a project that appears to have been quietly abandoned.

The N250, which fell victim to the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

The N219 is a twin-engine, 19-seater utility aircraft designed for delivering passengers and cargo to destinations up to 890km away (when fully loaded). [9] The aircraft is intended to operate from remote semi-prepared air strips, and is thus well-suited to operational conditions that can be expected in Africa, South America and Indonesia. A large side cargo door and modular cargo system allows the aircraft to be easily re-configured for passenger or cargo missions with a maximum payload of 2,300kg, or combination of passengers and cargo. [9] The N219 is a direct competitor to the Canadian DHC-6 Twin Otter, the U.S. Cessna 408 SkyCourier and the future Brazilian Desaer ATL-100.
Airlines that currently operate the Czechoslovak Let L-410, the Chinese Harbin Y-12 or the U.S. Cessna 208 will be particularly interested in the N219, which is currently in the late prototype stage. These aircraft types are still a common sight all throughout Africa and South America for their ability to operate from dirt strips, their ease of maintenance and low acquisition and operating costs. The N219 is set to cost around $6 million, compared to $6.85 million for the freighter variant and $7.4 million for the passenger version of the Cessna 408. [10] [11]
The N219's characteristics and low acquisition price has already led to interest from Nigeria, China and Mexico, while around ten Indonesian airlines have signed letters of intent for some 150 N219s. [12] Although these yet have to translate into firm orders (which will likely be made once the N219 has finished development), it clearly shows the commercial interest in the aircraft. In addition to passenger and cargo configurations, N219 can also be used in several other (military) roles such as troop transportation, MEDEVAC, surveillance, search and rescue (SAR), skydiving and even an amphibious version with floats for tourist flights is envisioned. [13]   
It should be noted that the N219 is unlikely to attract any interest from airlines in Türkiye, as the aircraft is too small to serve on any of the domestic routes currently operated by Turkish Airlines. While the N219 could serve new, smaller destinations in Türkiye, it is questionable whether such routes are profitable and in high enough demand. Although the Turkish Army or Gendarmerie could be interested in small numbers of N219 to replace aircraft types currently in service, Turkish involvement in the N219 project is aimed at providing the necessary technologies and expertise to turn the aircraft into an export success rather than fulfilling a domestic requirement for a small utility aircraft.

The N219's passenger cabin.

The N219's possible cargo configurations.

Contrary to the N219, the N245 is not a newly designed aircraft, but rather a comprehensive update of the CN-235 transport fitted with new engines, a T-tail and winglets. [14] The aircraft also features several changes to suit its new role as a 54-seater passenger aircraft, such as the removal of the rear cargo ramp. Incorporating years of experience with refining the design of the CN-235, the N245 is an entirely different aircraft from the passenger version of the CN-235 offered to airlines in the 1980s, which was in essence a cargo aircraft modified to carry passengers. 

Whether these upgrades are enough to convince airlines to acquire the aircraft will depend on the N245's price and operating costs, and the aircraft is likely to face stiff competition from designs such as the ATR-72 and the Dash 8. By the time the N245 will enter the market, the segment will be further represented by other designs such as the Chinese Xian MA700 and the Russian Il-114-300. Nonetheless, traction in the Indonesian market could provide these aircraft with scale from the onset, ultimately making them more competitive in the global market. Like the N219, the N245 could also benefit from Türkiye's worldwide influence to attract customers around the world, most notably in Africa and South America, markets Indonesia would have more difficulty penetrating on its own. 
The N245 project is currently in the advanced design stage, with a prototype for the aircraft likely to be constructed in the coming years. The N245's designation refers to the year Indonesia declared independence, in 1945 (though it would take until December 1949 before Indonesia formally achieved its independence from Dutch colonial rule).
Being substantially larger than the N219, the N245 could also see interest from airlines in Türkiye. The last decade has seen the construction of a great number of airports throughout Türkiye to serve cities and regions that were previously reliant on bus services or slow trains. Turkish Airlines currently serves many of these airports with Airbus A319/A320/A321 and Boeing 737 jet airliners, which seat 150 to 185 passengers. A cheaper alternative could be found in the turboprop N245 to carry as many as 54 passengers to less popular airports up to 1100km away, perhaps under a new Turkish Airlines Regional brand.

The TRjet project similarly sought to maximise the use of existing designs to speed up the project, with the TR328 and TRJ328 being updated variants of the German Dornier 328 and Dornier 328Jet. [15] A similar renaming scheme could be implemented for PTDI's aircraft, with the N219 becoming the TR219 and the N245 the TR245. One would expect that Türkiye's influential position in international affairs could play a significant factor in the planes' commercial succes, and a designation that clearly refers to their country of origin (Türkiye) might certainly be of benefit. Strong political backing behind the aircraft could also end up as a major factor to boost the export sales of both types.

Türkiye's Minister of Industry and Technology Mustafa Varank with the CEO of PTDI Elfien Goentoro during Teknofest 2021. [16]

In July 2017, PTDI first announced that it had entered into an agreement with TAI to cooperate in the development of the N219 and N245. Under the agreement, the two aerospace companies would jointly develop, produce and market the N245. [17] TAI will help to convert the N245 from what was originally a military transport design into a cost-effective commercial airliner. Reports in 2021 also cited TAI's involvement in the future production of the N219 and the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Havelsan for the joint development of a N219 simulator. [18] [19] [20] Whether setting up an assembly line for the N219 and/or N245 in Türkiye is also planned is unknown, but could end up crucial for the establishment of a local civilian aviation industry and for Türkiye to claim both aircraft as its own.

Although Türkiye's effort to produce domestic airliners through the TRjet project came to an end in 2017, several options to revive the country's ambitions to design and construct commercial aircraft remain. While they are perhaps more modest in their scope, the turboprop N219 and N245 ultimately have a better shot at becoming success stories. Turkish technology and its worldwide influence combined with Indonesia's designs could end up as the golden combination to achieve something what neither country could have done alone: global civil aviation success.

[1] Turkey terminates local jet program worth billions
[4] Indonesian and Turkish aviation firms agree to collaborate on N245 commuter aircraft
[5] Untapped Potential: Turkey And Ukraine Join Forces To Develop Antonov Aircraft
[6] N250 Take Off
[7] Jokowi Hopes for Solution to Transportation Problems
[8] Setelah N219, PT DI dan Lapan bakal bikin N245 dan N270
[11] "Purchase planning handbook - turboprops table"
[17] Indonesian and Turkish aviation firms agree to collaborate on N245 commuter aircraft  
[20] PT Dirgantara Indonesia, Turkish Havelsan to develop simulator for N219 aircraft

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