Air India, which currently has 113 aircraft, recently announced extensive plans for growth and modernization.
The Indian flag carrier, Air India, has been putting a lot of effort into modernizing its fleet of 113 aircraft and improving its operational efficiency. Air India has continued to receive brand-new Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners and Airbus A320neo airplanes in recent years.
On the other hand of fleet management, the Star Alliance member has made the decision to formally end the operation of the Boeing 747 after more than 50 years. Recently, the airline announced two sizable contracts with Airbus and Boeing. These deals should help to secure the airline’s dominance in the fiercely competitive Indian aviation market.
A quick look at the Air India mainline fleet
The Air India fleet, which numbers over 100 aircraft, is as follows:
There are 18 A319-100s, 9 A320-200s, 27 A320neos, 14 A321-200s, 5 777-200LRs, 13 777-300ERs, and 27 787-8s.
While the Air India mainline fleet will be the subject of our attention, we should also point out that the company also operates Air India Express, a low-cost regional affiliate. This airline has 26 Boeing 737-800s in its fleet. A low-cost division of Air India.
Air India Express provides low-cost flights to 14 foreign locations, primarily in the Middle East, from its Indian bases in Kochi, Delhi, Mumbai, Mangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, and Kozhikode, among others. The airline hopes to add many more foreign locations in the upcoming years, as we mentioned last year.
In the fusion process
On January 27th, 2022, Tata Sons announced that it has bought a 100% share in Air India through Talace, a wholly owned subsidiary. When this news was made, it was specified that Vistara would merge with Air India after receiving regulatory approval. Airlines surely wish mergers and acquisitions could happen instantly, but in reality, these procedures can take months or even years.
In fact, Korean Air bought competitor heritage carrier Asiana in late 2020 with the intention of combining operations. The airlines had to obtain approval from foreign governments, notably the UK and the European Union, in addition to local courts because the merger is expected to be finalized in 2024.
Legal files and extensive paperwork are being created while this article is being published in order to forward the merger process. There are a number of Indian organizations that must approve the merger of Air India with Vistara’s activities.
Authorities include the Central Bank of India, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, and the DGCA, which regulates aviation. The merger must also be approved by the Competition Commission of India in order for the country’s consumer rights to be unaffected.
To settle debts and redeem amounts, a number of smaller organizations, such as the Airport Authority of India, will need to be contacted. It could take up to six months to complete this process. As we hinted at earlier, international competition and antitrust agencies must also approve a merger of an airline like Vistara and Air India. Based on their position in the relevant markets, airlines choose which nations to pursue.
At this time, the owners of Air India and Vistara have picked Singapore and the EU as two jurisdictions for which they would like to obtain regulatory clearance. Because to Singapore Airlines’ 25.1% ownership part in the newly combined Air India-Vistara carrier, Singapore is ranked highly on the list.
Though there are many obstacles to overcome, it is anticipated that the merger process will go without a hitch.
intentions for a massive fleet expansion
Air India announced the largest fleet replacement and upgrade program ever with two sizable orders in the middle of February. Based on current market valuations, each order increases the order books of the planemakers by $34 billion, split 50/50 (in terms of transactional value) between Airbus and Boeing. For its short- and medium-haul operations, Air India’s Airbus order will include 210 members of the A320neo family narrowbodies, and 40 A350s for its higher-capacity and long-haul services.
The order consists of 70 A321neos, 140 A320neos, six A350-900s, and an amazing 34 A350-1000s, to be more precise. With the A350 deal, Air India will once again have access to widebody Airbus aircraft. Prior until now, the airline flew A300, A310, and A330 aircraft, but it now seems to prefer flying its entire widebody fleet of Boeing aircraft. Speaking of Boeing, Air India has a 220-aircraft agreement with the American manufacturer.
The 190 Boeing 737 MAX, 20 Boeing 787s, and 10 brand-new 777X aircraft that are part of this deal. The arrangement does not state which MAX models the airline will seek, despite the fact that it is obvious the carrier will prefer the mid-size 787-9 variation of Dreamliners. With this agreement, Air India joins Emirates, ANA, British Airways, and other airlines as the 777X’s 11th listed client.
Air India has also obtained options for an additional 70 aircraft, including 50 737 MAX and 20 787s, in addition to the firm orders. This new event may be viewed as long overdue given that Air India’s last significant order was for 68 planes back in 2006.
Throughout time, foreign airlines have reduced the carrier’s position of the global market; these airlines include Middle Eastern behemoths like Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad as well as European ones like British Airways, Lufthansa, and others. With less than 10% of the low-margin but high-revenue domestic market, Air India was relegated to a tiny portion of the market.
There has been intense competition from various low-cost carriers as well as Vistara, a full-service opponent turned partner. For the airline to survive, things had to change rapidly, and Tata intends to accomplish this with its huge order.
Since the two major aircraft manufacturers have sizable backlogs, most high-quantity aircraft orders are long-term agreements. The ties that Air India has with Boeing and Airbus are no different. Nonetheless, the carrier has been and will continue to accept some “new” aircraft in the near future, with the majority of these planes already in existence before the major announcement in mid-February. First, we can anticipate the airline adding the Airbus A321neo to its fleet fairly soon.
In reality, several of these airframes painted in the colors of Air India have been seen in recent weeks at Airbus facilities outside of Hamburg, with one plane making its maiden flight on February 27. The carrier will get four A321neo aircraft from an order placed in September 2022 in addition to the 21 A320neo aircraft that have already been delivered.
Air India also mentioned that it would be acquiring five used Boeing 777-200LR aircraft at the same time that it announced its impending purchase of A320neo family aircraft. Actually, Air India will lease these planes. Formerly run by Delta Air Lines, the US airline retired its 777-200LR fleet in late 2020 and has since transitioned to a widebody fleet made up primarily of Airbus models.
The jets will be used on flights from important Indian cities to the United States, according to Air Insight Group. For the first time, Air India can offer a premium economy cabin on long-haul flights thanks to Delta’s 2018 interior upgrades of these aircraft. The carrier acquired two of these ex-Delta 777s in November 2022, and three more are anticipated soon; the’mini-order’ is anticipated to be completed by March 2023.
By the first half of 2023, Air India also intends to add six more Boeing 777-300ERs to its fleet, in addition to the 777-200LRs. Regarding Airbus, the airline is already aware of the precise A350 airframes it will be using. In fact, the six A350-900s ordered as part of its groundbreaking deal in mid-February will be aircraft that Russian carrier Aeroflot originally ordered.
Air India will shortly take A350s with the following manufacturer serial numbers (MSNs) because Aeroflot can no longer receive the aircraft due to sanctions placed on Russia:
Aerotime reports that Air India intends to use the Aeroflot cabins already fitted on the aircraft when the A350s join the carrier towards the end of the year. The decision to retain the cabins of the Russian airline in the short term was made due to time and supply chain constraints, according to Campbell Wilson, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Air India group, at a press event on February 27.
There won’t be any more 747s
It seems appropriate to briefly highlight the conclusion of Air India’s own 747 operations as the very last brand-new Boeing 747 was delivered earlier this year.
As the epidemic hit and travel restrictions were put in place, Air India grounded its Boeing 747 aircraft, joining many other operators around the globe in doing so. Many people had hoped that the airline would follow Lufthansa’s example and restart its 747-400 fleet, but all hope was dashed when India’s aviation authority, the DGCA, de-registered the plane in April 2022.
A few months later, in November 2022, Air India declared that it has selected Skytech-AIC to assist in the sale of its final four 747-400 aircraft. The 26 to 30 year old aircraft have only ever flown for the airline. It was anticipated that interested parties would choose the jets for modification to freighters. Unfortunately, it appears that neither Skytech-AIC nor the airline have found purchasers now that several months have gone.
The four jets are still owned by Air India and are currently designated as “to be scrapped,” according to data from ch-aviation.com.
It appears that Air India’s Queens of the Skies would fade silently and mostly unnoticed as United Airlines, Qantas, and many other airlines marked and celebrated the end of their individual 747 operations. In contrast, United Airlines ran a special farewell trip from San Francisco to Honolulu and held a special ceremony in Sydney, both of which resulted in a DVD documenting the event (see below).
Air India’s jumbo jets may have quietly and without fanfare vanished, but once its new big jets are delivered, especially with models like the Airbus A350-1000 and Boeing 777-9, the airline will undoubtedly rejoice and mark their arrival.