Turkey’s indigenous regional jet project faces local production ‘crisis’
Tolga Tanış - WASHINGTONThe TRJet program to build Turkey’s first indigenous regional jet faces problems as the U.S.-based Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC), a partner in the jet program, has been asked to produce at least 70 percent of the jet’s parts in Turkey by the Undersecretariat for the Defense Industry (SSM), according to company representatives, noting that a final agreement has been not inked yet.
The TRJet program was first launched in a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu just 10 days before the June elections, but the project already has obstacles. The SSM has asked that 70 percent of the plane parts be made in Turkey by SNC, which has undertaken the project. This, however, is not possible, according to company representatives.
“It is now asked from us to meet the target of 70 percent of local production in the project. It is very difficult to meet this target. The aircraft engine and the electronic systems already constitute most of the parts of the aircraft, and all of them are produced abroad. This should be applied not for the TRJ328 with the capacity of 32 passengers, which needs to be produced at the first stage and to be submitted in three years, but for the TRJ628 with the capacity of 70 passengers, which is planned to be submitted until 2023,” said company chairwoman and president, Eren Özmen.
The TRJ328 and the TRJ628 will be based on Dornier 328 and Dornier 628, respectively.
“This is $1.5 billion-worth of business. The acquisition of Dornier’s intellectual property rights, the production of 50 new TRJ328s and the first design of TRJ628,” said company CEO Fatih Özmen.
No ‘final agreement’ yet
However, Fatih Özmen has made a critical point about the project. “In the launch ceremony in May, we signed only a memorandum of understanding with Turkish government and Turkish defense company STM, a majority of which is owned by the government, with the support of Prime Minister Davutoğlu.” The required decision was made in June 2015 by the Defense Industries Execution, according to Fatih Özmen. In the case that “Turkey says ‘no’ to the deal, we’ll say we have acquired a good company, Dornier, despite some investment losses,” he noted.
He said the agreement is planned to be signed this year.
“I hope there will be no change in plans. We want to say this is not a political project. I mean politics have an effect, of course, but this is mainly Turkey’s project,” he added.
“We consider this investment in a long-term perspective, not in short-term. We also view what will be contribution to the economy. The contribution of aviation to economy is calculated as one-to-seven, when high technologies and training dimensions are included into the equation. This project is a historic move that will make great contribution to making Turkey one of the world’s 10 biggest economies,” Eren Özmen said.
However, she added, “The point is to make this project in global standards…Turkey needs to make a decision here: Does it want to produce its indigenous airplane or a global airplane? There is not anything that is 100 percent local in this sector…Even Boeing does not produce everything by itself. On the contrary, many different parts are used in its new 787 from many parts of the world.”
She noted the main priority for the SSM as ensuring national control.
“In case of any war outbreak, the SSM wants to have local means to be able to control its economics. It does produce parts and doesn’t need any certification. The certification, however, matters for us. If we will sell this airplane on the global scale, we need to think about its certification,” she noted.
Fatih Özmen said their company has focused on three priorities in the project: Certification, market choice and branding.
“First of all, as Dornier doesn’t have any certification problem and we can use its engineering infrastructure with SNC,” with Turkey having the technological rights as well. He added, “We have set a suitable competition field by targeting the production of a new regional jet for markets with 4,000 airplanes and a capacity of 30-70 passengers, for which there is not any big producer in the world.” Dornier’s established name would help Turkey sell its regional brand in the global markets, he said, adding, “Besides, Dornier has widespread parts and logistics support networks, which will provide great opportunity to us.”
The idea for a Turkish jet was first introduced by then-PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in May 2013 during a trip to San Francisco. “He then asked for our help in meeting Turkey’s target to produce a local airplane. We then started to talk about this issue… An ambitious and quick-to-proceed program was made in October 2014 when Lütfi Elvan was transport minister,” said Fatih Özmen, with the acquisition of Dornier completed in February 2015.