Commercial Jet vs. Bullock Cart

As reported in media, China wants to build its own commercial jet by 2020. Ambitious? Sure. Realistic? Maybe. No one disputes China’s ability to produce a credible airliner. The country has been a parts supplier to Western aircraft makers for decades and is building its own 70-80 seat regional jet, the ARJ-21.

However, the Western media is skeptical about its success, and it has its logic. Boeing, Airbus, and General Electric have developed advancedaerospace technologies such as new, lighter materials that have helped to make air travel faster, safer, and cheaper. If the Chinese intend to use lower labor costs to undercut Boeing and Airbus on price, airline CEOs will probably just yawn.

The recentsuccess of Boeing’s carbon fiber 787 Dreamliner will carry 250 passengers in a composite fuselage that, along with new advanced engines, will improve fuel efficiency by 20% over similar-sized rivals, and cut maintenance costs by more than 30%. Over the life of a wide body aircraft flying the longest routes, fuel will cost more than four times the sticker price of the airplane, according to brokerage Merrill Lynch.

China wants to make its own planes. And there’s certainly a domestic market for them. Chinese airlines are expected to buy 2,650 new passenger aircraft over the next 20 years, worth $289 billion, according to commercial-airplane experts. Still, the risks are enormous. Even veteran manufacturers have stumbled badly at times, with Airbus’ troubles in building its A380 super jumbo just the latest example of how unforgiving the industry can be.

Sure, China can make toys, steel, ships, and even cars. And it’s getting better at all of them. Airplanes, though, may be a stretch, even for a nation as ambitious as China.

Indias Bullock Cart

India set up its Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. with much fanfare to produce its own planes both for civic aviation as well as for air force of the country. Its investment is huge with lot of manufacturing and R&D facilities in different location. Unfortunately, HAL has hardly any product that makes India globally recognized as aircraft manufacturer.

However, my interest was with some ambitions manifested in an Indian PSUs innovation. News appeared in The Times of India on Thursday March 22,2007- Govt to give steel bullock carts to villagers. That runs further. In a bid to promote consumption of steel in the countrys rural areas, the steel ministry has decided to distribute bullock carts made of steel to villagers, particularly among the weaker sections. As a pilot project, 70-odd steel bullock carts made by the Vishakhapatnam-based Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd (RINL) are ready for distribution among villagers in the vicinity of RINL.

Further, improving upon the great work done by the ministry, the report continues. A steel ministry official said that these bullock carts were sturdier and longer lasting than those made of bamboo and othertypes of wood. If the experiment succeeds and the product becomes popular and is found to be cost-effective, then the government could even go in for large-scale production of such steel bullock carts through a public sector undertaking. I dont know how the steel bullock cart compares with the weight of traditional ones and who shall use them. With whatever I have seen, both the bullocks and carts are disappearing from the rural India with tractors replacing them.

What should one think about the fertility and innovativeness of the minds of both the politicians and bureaucrats leading the nation? How should these great political ideas be ranked?

I dont mean that good application based researches are totally absent. In the area of steel making itself, BESU (Bengal Engineering College, Shibpur, Kolkata of our days) has come out with sturdier yet lighter steel that can have a commercialpotential in automotive and other sectors. Even the students of some of the engineering colleges have developed good automotive products. But the politicians even in the 21st century cant think anything beyond the bullock carts and rickshaw.

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