Mega Maharaja, record order: Tatas set to buy 500 aircraft


NEW DELHI: In one of the biggest ever aircraft orders, Air India is all set to order almost 500 aircraft. These include 400 single aisles — 210 Airbus A320 neo family and 190 Boeing 737 Max.
Then there are 70 twin aisles — 40 A350s, 20 B787s and 10 B777X.
At list price, the ordered aircraft — 250 Airbus and 220 Boeings — will be worth $150 billion and are set to be delivered over the next eight years.
Simultaneously, the Tata Group has signed deals for engines original equipment manufacturers for these aircraft. In addition to these firm orders, AI will have many planes as options also Air India, Airbus and Boeing did not comment on this.
The Tatas are in the midst of merging erstwhile AirAsia India into Air India Express to create a big low cost carrier (LCC) and merging Vistara into AI to create a big full service carrier (FSC).
The Boeing 737 Max will go to the mega LCC that is being created and will be under the AI umbrella. The other aircraft will go to FSC AI, with the single aisles operating on domestic and nearby international routes.
The wide bodies will be used for medium (Europe and fair east), long (north coast of North America) and ultra long haul (west coast) nonstops.
The integrated AI aims to garner 30% market share on both the domestic and international front.
The big order is a boost for Boeing which till recently did not have any financially stable airline customer in India till late Rakesh Jhunjhunwala-funded Akasa took to the skies last year. It has not delivered even a single B737 Max to cash-strapped SpiceJet post-Covid while the airline has large number of them on order. The US major’s last success was with Jet Airways which stopped flying in April 2019. AI’s current wide body fleet is entirely Boeing — a mix of 747s (which have now been phased out); B787 Dreamliner and B777s.
Airbus, on the other hand, has IndiGo as the world’s largest customer for the best-selling A320neo family of aircraft. Its other customers include GoAir with both these two low cost carriers having hinders of A320neos on order.
Air India (erstwhile Indian Airlines), Vistara and erstwhile AirAsia India uses the A320. Erstwhile Jet used to operate wide-body Airbus (A330).
Given global supply chain constraints sparked by Covid and aggravated by Russia’s war on Ukraine, Airbus and Boeing had 12,669 unfulfilled orders as on December 31, 2022. Delivery slots are very hard to come by for at least the next couple of years, while for narrow bodies the situation is tight until 2029, CAPA-India and said recently. So ordering aircraft in time is essential for AI to get delivery slots in coming years so that it can also phase out its old planes. The aircraft now being ordered will be a mix of sale and lease back and owned.
The biggest pain point for AI passengers has been dilapidated state of AI onboard product — broken seats, armrests, tray tables; non-functional inflight entertainment screens; dirty seat fabric, carpets and overall shabby interiors — as the last few penurious years of the state-owned Maharaja saw no investment being made on these items. Global supply chain constraints sparked by Covid and then aggravated by Russia’s war on Ukraine have delayed ambitious plans of Air India to upgrade the existing product.
In the last one year since Tatas took over and started infusing funds, the number of operating aircraft in the last one year has increased 27% and is at 100 now.
“The number of daily flights has increased by 30% and weekly international services have risen 63%. Sixteen new international routes have been started or announced (to be launched shortly) and frequency on nine existing ones have been increased. Average daily passengers have risen by 72% and daily revenue has doubled. Average daily frequency has increased 81%,” Air India MD-CEO Campbell Wilson had recently said.


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