The Tata Group-owned Air India has decided to procure its maiden batch of wide-bodied A350 aircraft from Airbus and the first plane is likely to be delivered to the airline by March 2023. The A350 order would be worth more than USD 6 billion based on list prices, before traditional industry discounts.
However, it was not immediately clear how many A350 aircraft will be purchased by Air India. But Air India can place an order of up to 50 Airbus A350-900 aircraft. Additionally, the airline is also in talks to order more than 100 A321 neo aircraft- a popular version of Airbus’ single-aisle version.
Air India has not bought a single aircraft since 2006 when it had placed orders for purchasing 111 aircraft — 68 from the US-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing and 43 from European aircraft manufacturer Airbus.
A wide-bodied plane like Airbus A350 has a bigger fuel tank that allows it to travel long distances such as India-US routes. The Tata Group took control of Air India on January 27 after successfully winning the bid for the airline on October 8 last year.
Sources on Wednesday, June 17 said Air India has started asking its senior pilots if they will be interested in getting the “conversion training” to operate A350 aircraft.
Air India’s pilots are trained to operate the wide-bodied aircraft of Boeing. Therefore, they have to undergo “conversion training” to operate the A350 aircraft of Airbus. Transition training from A320 to A350 will require only around six months as Airbus has ensured cockpit commonality in the two aircraft.
According to Air India’s website, the airline has a total of 49 wide-bodied aircraft — 18 Boeing B777, 4 Boeing B747 and 27 B787 — in its fleet. The carrier has 79 narrow-bodied planes in its fleet too. Sources said Air India is purchasing A350 aircraft and is likely to get its first A350 plane by March 2023.
Such an early delivery of the aircraft is possible because the airline is eyeing aircraft already built for Russian airline AeroFlot, which Airbus couldn’t deliver due to the sanctions placed by the company on Russia.
Aeroflot had a total of 22 A350-900 aircraft on order. Out of those, only one has been delivered to Aerflot while six aircraft are being taken by Turkish Airlines, which will be delivered in 2022 and 2023.
The Russia-Ukraine war has led to Western nations taking swift action against Russia, imposing sanctions and airspace bans. The actions restricted plane makers like Airbus and Boeing from selling and delivering aircraft to their Russian customers.
Multiple delays by Boeing for the commercial launch of its competing product like the 777X due to regulatory issues also contributed to the order swaying in Airbus’ favour. Plans of Vistara, the group’s joint venture with Singapore, have been hit due to the delay in delivery of 787 aircraft.
A team of top executives of Tata Sons, which includes the conglomerate’s Chief Financial Officer Saurabh Agrawal and Air India’s Chief Commercial officer Nipun Aggarwal, is in Hamburg to finalise details on the seating layout and interiors.
Airbus had earlier showcased a more advanced version of the aircraft A350-1000 to Tata Sons executives including group patriarch Ratan Tata.
The airline is simultaneously working to restore its grounded aircraft. Around 30 of Air India’s 113 aircraft have been grounded for varying periods due to lack of engine overhaul or non-availability of components and spares. This includes aircraft from both the Airbus and Boeing fleet such as Airbus A320, Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft.
While Air India has a fleet of 141 aircraft, a mix of narrow and wide-body Airbus and Boeing aircraft, the airline has agreed to hand over only 118 of them in fly-worthy condition to the Tatas.
Since April, the airline’s chairman N Chandrasekaran — who also is the chairman of the Tata Group — has rejigged the top management of the airline, bringing in senior and middle-level executives who have worked in other companies of the Tata Group such as Tata Steel and Vistara.
Tata Sons chairman N Chandrasekaran who is also the chairman of Air India had earlier said that the group will need to order new aircraft to augment the fleet of the airline.
“We will address it with utmost urgency. We’ll upgrade our fleet, we’ll bring modernity in our fleet, we’ll bring a new fleet,” he had said in a video address to employees.
Once known for its premium services and advertisements featuring Bollywood stars, the airline still has lucrative landing slots at most major airports, but it faces competition from foreign airlines with non-stop services to India and carriers that fly via hubs in the Middle East.
Tata, which now owns four airline brands, including the local affiliates of Singapore Airlines Ltd. and AirAsia Group Bhd., is widely expected to consolidate the businesses. It already got antitrust approvals for Air India to take over AirAsia India.