Tata Group-owned international budget airline Air India Express may add four Boeing 737 planes to its fleet of 24 aircraft by this year-end to meet the increased demand for international travel, airline sources privy to the information have said.
Following the removal of various pandemic-related curbs, aviation is picking up and demand has bounced back and dry leasing is an option to enhance capacity in the short-term, they said.
Air India Express currently has 24 Boeing 737 planes in the fleet. It lost one plane in the Kozhikode plane crash in August 2020.
“Demand for international travel has bounced back after the removal of most of the pandemic-related restrictions on travel. Loads (passenger on aircraft) are good and all the routes are doing well. Of course, there are some seasonal variations, which have been factored in,” a source told PTI.
“In the short-term, the airline might take four aircraft on dry lease to increase capacity for the interim period,” the source said, adding that the new aircraft will be utilized to enhance frequency on certain routes.
“You can’t open new routes with four additional aircraft. These planes will only be used for increasing frequency and consolidation of the existing routes,” a source said.
Air India Express currently operates at 11 airports in India and 13 abroad with over 100 daily flights. The induction of four more aircraft will expand the fleet to 28 planes altogether.
Even as a state carrier, Air India Express’ balance sheet remained impressive, in sharp contrast to its bigger full-service sibling Air India.
The carrier’s business model of offering budget flights on high-density point-to-point routes from tier-2 and 3 Indian cities to places like Dubai, Sharjah, and Muscat brought in steady cash every year.
Air India Express posted its highest-ever net profit in the financial year 2019-20 of around USD 52 million. Even before that, it had been in profit for five years. However, its plans for further expansion have met with roadblocks over the years.
With new owners, Air India Express is hoping for better days ahead. Its Chief of Commercial Tara Naidu recently commented that Air India Express could connect second and third-tier cities in India with several more countries as part of a “huge” expansion plan.
Around 30 countries are being explored by the airline, including Cambodia, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, and Vietnam.
“The airline has not been allowed to grow for a long time. Earlier, its growth was hampered on account of the disinvestment process. The competition is growing every day and we have to keep up with that,” the source said.
According to another source, the airline had drawn up a business plan in 2018, in which it had envisioned to be a 50-aircraft company by 2025 as air passenger traffic was booming at that time.
“But first the government did not give us the go-ahead at that time saying that the airline was in its disinvestment plans and then the Covid-19 happened,” said the source.
Stating that Air India Express is hiring both cockpit crew and the cabin crew, which is an indication itself of induction of more aircraft (in the short-term), the source said, “a walk-in-interview for cabin crew has been conducted at Calicut on Tuesday, June 28. Also, the airline has already completed one round of walk-in interviews at Delhi, Mumbai, Mangalore and Calicut.”
“And in the coming weeks, Air India Express plans to conduct a similar exercise at Kochi as well as Northeast,” he said.