Recent reports about Air India’s A350 plans seem to be a prelude to a larger fleet reshuffle over the next few years. New developments suggest that the airline’s next fleet order could be more than 200 aircraft – mostly narrowbodies but a significant number of widebodies as well.
200+ new planes
Air India is reportedly gearing up for significant investment for fleet restructuring, with the latest reports suggesting a massive order in the works. The airline hit the headlines a few days ago over reports of a big widebody order with Airbus for its A350 aircraft. But apparently, it is not done yet.
AI is planning to increase its fleet size by more than 200 airplanes over the next 4 to 5 years, according to a person familiar with the matter. Around 70% of those would be narrowbody jets, and the remaining 30% widebodies. The Economic Times quotes the source as saying,
“There is no time. The airline has to scale up really fast. It’s stepping on the gas.”
Interestingly, one of the first comments about a possible fleet restructuring has come not from AI but from Airbus’ Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer, who was in Doha for the two-day annual general meeting of IATA. He said,
“Air India is clearly reorganizing itself under the very able stewardship of the Tatas and as such, it is very natural that they contemplate an investment in new fleets, new airplanes, if only to regain more sovereignty, more market share, for an Indian carrier in the international market.”
Airbus or Boeing?
Both Airbus and Boeing are reportedly in talks with Air India about the next big order. Boeing’s years of widebody dominance in India could end soon, with various sources suggesting that Airbus has won big with a significant A350 order. While the exact number of airplanes ordered is not known, according to most estimates, it is between 20 and 50 aircraft. When asked about the deal in Doha, Scherer remained tight-lipped about it, saying, “I will not comment on that.”
But a massive narrowbody order remains up for grabs for both rival planemakers, with no firm indications of which manufacturer AI might choose. While the Airbus A320neo family airplanes seem like a sensible choice, considering AI already operates them and will find it easier to train and manage crew for a single fleet type, it might have to wait slightly longer to get this very popular aircraft.
On the other hand, Boeing is eager to sell its 737 MAX aircraft, particularly after the difficult few years, and could offer lucrative discounts. However, it would mean that AI would have to operate two separate narrowbody fleet types for the next few years. Although, as a full-service carrier, handling different types of planes is not an unknown territory for Air India.
According to some sources, Air India’s team has had multiple meetings with Airbus officials in Toulouse and Hamburg over the last few months. Exact details are likely to emerge soon.
Major rejigging in more than a decade and a half
If and when Air India announces a new aircraft order, it would be the first of its kind in more than 15 years. The carrier’s last order came in 2006 when it signed a deal with Boeing for 68 widebody airplanes and 43 narrowbodies from Airbus, totaling 111 aircraft.
The 2006 order has fueled much of AI’s operations since then, although at a loss due to gross mismanagement. Hopefully, with new bosses and new airplanes, the next decade will prove to be a game-changer for the airline.
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Source: The Economic Times