Saturday, October 20, 2012

Aviation veteran Habibie ready to look to the skies again

Former president B.J. Habibie’s concerns over the sluggish development of Indonesia’s hi-tech industries, especially aeronautics, have apparently been partly answered after he said he would be entering the aviation business once again.

On Friday Habibie said he would join PT Regio Aviasi Industri (RAI), a merger between PT Ilhabi Rekatama and PT Eagle Capital. “The project is to revive the N-250 plane,” Habibie said after attending the 17th National Technology Awakening Day at Gedung Sate in Bandung, West Java. The N-250 turboprop aircraft, or Nusantara 250, was manufactured formerly by state-owned aircraft company PT IPTN, now PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PT DI). It conducted its maiden flight on Aug. 10, 1995, and its test flights were successful. Habibie was very proud of the success of IPTN in designing the N-250 turboprop 18 years ago, which he claimed was 100 percent made in Indonesia and engineered by Indonesian experts.

 According to him, in 1998 Indonesia came close to getting the plane certified airworthy by US and European regulators. The N-250 development project, however, was halted when the government discontinued funding on the orders of the International Monetary Fund in 1998. The majority stake (51 percent) at PT RAI is held by PT Ilhabi Rekatama, owned by Habibie’s son Ilham Habibie. The remaining shares are owned by the business group of Erry Firmansyah, former managing director of the Indonesia Stock Exchange (BEI). The memorandum of understanding (MoU) to establish PT RAI will be carried out on Aug. 11. Habibie said he would serve as chief commissioner of the company. “Tomorrow, I will sign the MoU at the home in Kuningan, Jakarta,” said Habibie.

 The private company is established to continue producing the N-250 aircraft, which has yet to obtain a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the United States aviation authority and the oldest authority in the world. “We expect to secure the FAA license in the next two years,” said Habibie on Friday. Habibie said that he would utilize all his networks, both inside and outside the country, to achieve his dream. When asked whether he would be involved directly in manufacturing the plane, Habibie said he would only guide the process. “I’m already 76 years old. I was engaged directly when I was younger, but not now. I leave it to my son and grandchildren. But one thing’s for sure, Habibie’s experience cannot be acquired from the books,” he said.

 With regards to that, he asked the Applied Technology and Research Agency (BPPT), PT DI, Technology and Science Research Center and higher learning institutes to revitalize the project. Habibie said the aircraft had gone through research and development since 1985. Studies from research institutions in Europe and North America in the fields of aviation, aerodynamics, aeroelastics, light-weight construction, engineering, propulsion, electronics, avionics, production and quality control have been developed at research institutions in Indonesia. Separately, PT DI Technology and Development director Dita Ardonni Jafri confirmed an initial study to produce the aircraft with Ilham Habibie’s business group. “Ilham’s group is working on it. PT DI is not much involved,” he said.

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