NEW DELHI, India, Feb.11, Reuter: Four Western plane makers have been shortlisted to reequip India’s fast expanding Vayudoot Airline but the Soviet Union is snapping at their heels.

At stake are aircraft orders worth at least 250 million dollars in the next two years, according to the Feeder Airline’s Managing Director Harsh Vardhan.

Vayudoot, which is India’s third largest state owned airline after Air India and the major domestic carrier Indian Airlines, is in the market for 17 small airliners seating around 50 passengers with options for a further seven.

Civil aviation officials say the four shot listed planes are British aerospace’s 62seat advanced turbo prop, the 50seat De Havilland Dash 8300 and two 46seaters, the Franco Italian Atr Regional Transport Aircraft and the Dutch Fokker5S0.

Vayudootis also negotiating the lease of four 130seat Soviet Yakovley Yak42 jets for evaluating and Vardhan said in an interview that he was impressed with improvements the Russians had made to their civil aircraft designs.

“They would be able to compete effectively with the West if they can deliver what they have promised on time”, he said

The places now being considered are needed to replace aging HS7488 and Fokker27 turboprops

And cater for Vayudoots rapid expansion which has seen it go from 190,00 passenger in 1981 a forecast 800,00 this year.

Vadhan who has transformed Vayudoot since joining from Indian Airline in 1983. Said the successful plane will have to be able to operate in India extremely hostile condition.

A typical half hour Vayudoot flight can take a plane from the thin, cool air 9,000 feet (2,700 meters) up in the Himalayas to the dusty plains and summer temperatures of 48 C (118 F).

Vardhan said technical reports on the four planes had been completed and government officials were expected to finish economic evaluation in six weeks with a decision announced in three to four months.

“Each of the four has special features, and they are all new technology aircraft,” he said. “I think that the decision will be made on cost of the aircraft and the financing package”.

The Indian government insists that at least 30 per cent of the contract price is financed through countertrade, whereby the costs will be partially offset by payment in kind from India.

The Western plane makers, aware that the Soviet Union accepts payment in nonnegotiable rupees under a special pact with India, are offering up to 100 per cent countertrade.

Vardhan said Vayudoothad suffered badly from currency fluctuations on payments for 10 West German Dornier228S it began taking delivery of in 1984

The rupee’s slide against themark, coupled with costly Dornier engine problems, would be enough to tip Vayudoot into a 78 million rupee (five million dollar) profit last year.

However, Vardhan reckoned the airline would be back in the black next year and forecast another five years of phenomenal growth by which time it would be carrying 4.5 to five million passengersa year and have a fleet of 35 aircraft.

Vayudoot’s current fleet of 18 planes serves 89 destinations in India, most of them remote tourist resorts or towns as small as 50,000 people, and expects to reach 100 centres within six months.

Many of them are in such inaccessible places that a 25minute flight can replace what is otherwise a three day journey by road.

Already Vayudoot is beginning to operate on some of the same routes as its big cousin Indian Airlines and Vardhan sees the competition intensifying.

“At the moment we have been playing a complementary role to Indian Airlines and both being national carriers we do not want to get into competition as such,” he said, “But some sort of competition is inevitable.”

Article extracted from this publication >> February 19, 1988