Fleet planning is a crucial component of the Tata Group’s effort to restructure Air India. In varying states of disrepair, the present Air India fleet is a mishmash of badly maintained aircraft.
The airline’s fleet has significantly improved after years of poor management. It’s not that the airline operates outdated aircraft; in fact, it recently began operating Boeing B787 aircraft, but those rapidly broke down.
In addition to general poor maintenance, the airline cannibalized some of its new aircraft for components for older aircraft. Overall, a fleet update has been long overdue and may now actually occur.
A memo asking Air India pilots if they would be interested in receiving training for the Airbus A350 apparently went out to them, though it was not official.
This has led to rumors that the Tata Group is now in negotiations to purchase A350 airplanes. Natarajan Chandrasekaran, the chairman of the Tata Group, was also reported to have recently visited the Toulouse headquarters of Airbus.
Additionally, Airbus has a sizable number of A350s that are ready for delivery. Owing to Qatar’s refusal to accept delivery due to quality difficulties and Aeroflot’s refusal to accept deliveries due to sanctions, there are several undeliverable A350s in Airbus’ inventory.
This offers the Tata Group an excellent chance to immediately purchase the A350s and start integrating the planes into the Air India fleet as early as 2023. There are indications that the airline is aiming to purchase about 20 A350s, up to 50 A350s, and 100 A321-neos or more.
During the IATA general conference in Doha, Christian Scherer, the chief commercial officer of Airbus, too had some harsh words to say about Air India.
Scherer stated that “Air India is clearly reorganizing itself under the very able stewardship of the Tatas and as such, it is very natural that they contemplate an investment in new fleets, new airplanes if only to regain more sovereignty, more market share, for an Indian carrier in the international market”.
However, he chose not to comment on any potential aircraft purchase discussions.
The Tata Group may potentially be in contact with Boeing for aircraft, but it’s unlikely that Boeing will be able to deliver aircraft as rapidly as Airbus. Due to Boeing’s ongoing quality problems, Vistara, another Tata airline, is currently owed two B787s that have not been delivered.
The Tatas might order B787s from Boeing, which would then be delivered at a later date.
If Air India does go through with this Airbus deal, it will give the European manufacturer access to the Indian widebody market. No Indian airline currently uses widebody Airbus planes. Boeing planes make up the widebody fleets of Vistara and Air India.
When Jet Airways previously operated flights, it used both Boeing B777 and Airbus A330 and A340 aircraft.
Regardless of the type of aircraft ordered, the Tatas’ decision to update their fleet is a positive one. The airline will advance significantly with the new aircraft.
The Tatas shouldn’t ignore the current fleet, though. Air India could operate with their current fleet for a good deal longer if they did a Delta Air Lines and kept their aircraft and cabins in good condition.