Yesterday at AAD, Denel Aerostructures’ CEO, Ismail Dockrat, unveiled a model of the company’s SARA (South African Regional Aircraft) project, thereby revealing this exciting enterprise to the public. SARA has been initiated to provide an aircraft that can be used on short, low-density routes, in particular to link destinations in areas where the road and rail infrastructure is poor.
The seeds of the project were planted around two years ago, as Denel looked for projects that could harness the expertise residing in the company and its suppliers, while at the same time ensuring that new skills were developed. SARA is seen not just as a Denel project, but as a wider scheme to develop South African infrastructure and technical capability as part of the national objective. Following market analysis, Denel identified the point-to-point small aircraft niche as being underserved, with a gap in the market for a modern 15- to 24-seat aircraft.
SARA has emerged as a twin-turboprop aircraft with a range of approximately 1,500 nautical miles and maximum take-off weight of 8,400kg. A high-wing configuration has been adopted, with the wing mounted above the fuselage so that the cabin remains unobstructed. The fuselage has a ‘wide-body’ look that allows four-abreast seating in a 2+2 layout.
The wide fuselage also helps the natural laminar flow around the aircraft, making it very fuel-efficient. In addition to the passenger version, Denel envisages a cargo version that can carry three LD2 pallets, and a Combi version that can carry one pallet and 12 passengers.
Denel has begun an 18-month feasibility study, which could lead to the funding required to initiate the development phase. The latter is expected to last from five to seven years, and the aircraft could enter service in around 2020-21. The company has stressed the need for input from other South African stakeholders.
As well as filling a niche in the market, SARA is also important to South Africa’s human resource development. Many of the country’s leading technical institutions and government agencies are in the SARA team, including universities. Around 10 post-graduate students are already focusing their efforts on the project, and ultimately it is expected to contribute greatly to the number of new engineers and technicians in the South African aerospace sector.