Tata Group’s Air India (AI) is gearing up to expand its capacity ahead of the festive season by leasing six B777s and 25 A320neos by the first quarter of 2023. The carrier is planning to renew its immediate fleet by receiving six second-hand Boeing 777-200s and 25 Airbus A320-200Ns on lease for short-term use. Being a forward-thinking business, the carrier has decided to take aircraft from the secondary lease market for a shorter duration to bridge the gap till new aircraft arrive.
Ex-Delta B777s to join AI fleet
Under Tata Group’s stewardship, Air India seeks to induct six former Delta Boeing 777s to meet its short-term demand. The Atlanta-based US carrier phased out 18 Boeing 777s (ten B777-200LRs and eight B777-200ERs) as a part of its fleet simplification strategy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic accelerated the retirement of these long-range widebody jetliners, the first of which entered the Delta fleet in 1999. Among 18 retired jets, three B777-200LRs are underway for freighter conversion on behalf of Cargojet Airways, and Jet Aviation Flight Services operate one 200-ER for the Arizona Cardinals, a National Football League (NFL) franchise.
Six former Delta B777s will likely join the Air India fleet by October this year, allowing the carrier to expand its lucrative North American operations. The delivery of these wide bodies will help AI adjust much-needed capacity to match increased customer demand in North American routes during the holiday season. These long-range aircraft are positioned to fly long-haul destinations, connecting the South Indian cities of Bengaluru and Hyderabad to US west coast without any load penalty.
While the dry-lease of former B777s will be applicable for two years, it is still unknown which of the two 777 variants will join the Air India fleet. Meanwhile, the carrier plans to dust off its ten grounded widebody aircraft and implement them by early 2023 to boost international operations. The current fleet of Air India comprises 43 wide bodies, 10 of which are in storage.
A320neos for domestic operations
In addition to B777s, Tata Group will lease 25 Airbus A320neo aircraft from the open market to bolster the domestic operations of Air India. Recently, the Tata-backed private carrier announced to double down on flight frequencies between major metro Indian cities and launch 24 additional flights to strengthen its domestic presence. Slated to begin delivering in early 2023, the leased Airbus A320-200N aircraft will meet the short-haul needs of the airline and expand flying capacity on domestic routes.
Bolstering capacity for Air India Express
The regional subsidiary of Air India, Air India Express, will also see positive development with the addition of five B737-800s currently operated by its sister airline, Vistara. Mindful of the upcoming heavy traffic season to the Middle East on the occasion of FIFA World Cup 2022, the regional unit will bolster its capacity to leap the benefits and increase market share in the profitable Middle Eastern routes.
Gurgaon-based full-service carrier Vistara had leased 9 Boeing 737s from Jet Airways after it ceased its operations in 2019. While four of them have returned to the lessors, Tata Sons have extended the leased period of all five 737s, which will now go to the Air India Express fleet in a bid for a nominal increase in its capacity expansion.
Procurement of 200+new aircraft underway
Earlier in June, reports suggested that Air India could procure more than 200 new aircraft over the next four to five years. As a part of an aggressive expansion strategy, the airline was reportedly ramping up its operations with a massive aircraft order consisting of around 70% narrowbody and 30% widebody jets. Currently, Air India is in the final phase of closing orders with Airbus and Boeing for at least 200 aircraft. Due to limited delivery slots, the delivery schedule of both Airbus and Boeing aircraft isn’t expected until the end of 2024. For the first time since 2006, Air India considered contemplating significant investment for fleet restructuring, placing a massive order for over 200 new planes.
Quick strides in the last few months
Backed by the salt-to-steel conglomerate, the last few months have seen Air India taking quick strides to be back on the game and create a significant position in the Indian aviation market. One of its further developments includes a decision to retain its current trained pilots at Air India post-retirement on a contractual basis for five years extendable to 65 years, which was made public on July 29.