With its population spread across more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia faces costly infrastructure challenges in keeping its people connected. Low-fare airlines have quickly blossomed, linking major towns and cities but not many smaller settlements, so Indonesia is turning to its fledging aviation industry to find a way forward.

Since 2010 state-owned PT Dirgantara Indonesia, also known as Indonesian Aerospace (IAe), has been working on a commuter airliner that it hopes to sell to the country's various small airlines and air-taxi services, building on knowledge it gained through the development of the ambitious N250 regional aircraft in the 1990s.

The N219 is a 7,000-kg (15,430-lb.), 19-seat turboprop in a configuration similar to that of the Viking Twin Otter. Market studies for the aircraft began in 2006, but now IAe is advancing the program and undertaking the detailed design process in readiness for a first flight in 2019. Development is expected to cost roughly $80 million and will be funded by the Indonesian government.

“We wanted to provide an aircraft with better performance and more comfort than the Twin Otter,” N219 Program Manager Budi Sampurno said at the Singapore Airshow this month. “We see this as a commercial aircraft first, but there are clearly opportunities for a multi-mission capability, too.”

IAe plans to fly a first prototype in 2015 and obtain certification from the Indonesian authorities in 2016. International certification will be pursued later.

The N219 is entering a crowded marketplace that includes many newly resurrected programs. Viking has restarted production of the Twin Otter, selling the type to commercial operators and militaries; RUAG is delivering the renewed Dornier 228; PZL-Mielec continues to produce the M28 Skytruck; China's Harbin is offering an improved version of its Y12 regional airliner (the Y12F); and Let Aircraft Industries in the Czech Republic continues to market its L410.

But IAe points out that the N219 is based on a modern clean-sheet design, whereas much of the competition has design roots in the 1960s and '70s. IAe is aiming to improve on the Twin Otter's performance by increasing the height and width of the passenger cabin, enabling three-abreast seating with a 32-in. pitch. The N219 will have a 5,000-lb. payload capacity (compared to the Twin Otter's 4,280 lb.), Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-42 turboprop engines and the Garmin 950 avionics suite.

The company is building new hangar and production facilities for the N219 at its Bandung plant, with plans to build 12 aircraft a year, later expanding to 24 per year.

The program has generated considerable interest in Indonesia. Low-cost airline Lionair has signed up for 50 aircraft, with options for another 50 to provide feeder services around the country, while Nusantara Buana Air, a small regional carrier working out of Banda Aceh in western Indonesia, has signed a memorandum of understanding for 20 aircraft, with options for another 10.

The N219 will draw on IAe's experience developing the 50-seat N250 turboprop in the 1990s. Two prototypes were produced that completed more than 800 flying hours before the program was halted because of the Asian economic crisis in 1997.

IAe retains a close relationship with Airbus Defense and Space on the C212 light transport aircraft, which is now produced solely at Bandung as the NC212i. The company is also marketing a modernized version of the C235 medium transport that it developed jointly with Spain's CASA during the 1980s. The latest version, the CN235-220, features winglets that IAe engineers say improve its takeoff performance. The winglets are similar to those on the Airbus C295W that IAe says deliver hot-and-high performance.

Indonesia's European ties were strengthened further at the Singapore Airshow with the signature of a memorandum of understanding to cover maintenance, repair and overhaul for the various products of Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter) operated within the country, such as the AS365 Dauphin, EC725 and AS350/AS555 Fennec helicopters acquired by the Indonesian government.