As widely reported, Air India has been working on placing a large aircraft order since the airline was sent back to the Tata Group. The last we heard was this order was going to be signed and sealed on January 27, 2023.
While we did not hear about the order since that was not entirely wrong either, Boeing and Air India signed an order in January 2023. The Airbus bit of the order has also been signed up in February. Corresponding orders with the engine manufacturers have also been stitched up. This order will surpass the prior most significant order in aviation history, placed by American in 2011. American’s 2011 aircraft order included plans to acquire 460 narrow-body, single-aisle aircraft from the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families.
Remember, Air India is undergoing a massive transformation plan, to corner a 30% market share in the domestic aviation market and be a leader in the international markets based out of India. At the end of December 2022, the group already has a market share of 25.9% (AirAsia 7.6%, Air India 9.1% and Vistara 9.2%).
Towards this effect, Air India Express and AirAsia India will be merged to form a no-frill airline. Vistara will also be subsumed into Air India, and Singapore Airlines will take a stake in Air India Limited.
Air India orders up to 220 Boeing Aircraft, including 30 widebodies.
Air India has placed an order for 220 Boeing jets, including 190 737 MAXs, 20 787 aircraft and 10 Boeing 777X aircraft. Amongst existing Air India entities, Air India Express already has 25 Boeing 737NG Aircraft, mostly leased from Golden State Aviation (9) and GECAS (7). The latest aircraft to join the fleet is an ex-Jet Airways 737 airframe, which first went to Vistara and has now been transferred to Air India Express.
Now, Air India has worked out a deal for 190 737 MAX aircraft, which I am almost certain will be shared with Air India Express. The whole order could go to AIX or just a part of it. We have yet to find out. But AIX has been operating old aircraft, and AirAsia India also has old A320 aircraft, so most likely, this is an excellent fit for the 737 MAX, as Air India Express/AirAsia India combine work on a domestic + international no-frills carrier model. Per Bloomberg, there are also 50 options to get more 737 MAXs if the airline deems fit.
Per news reports recently, Air India was offered about 50 aircraft previously preserved for the airlines in China. Still, China was stalling the re-entry of the 737 MAX in the country for the longest time. So that will help a quick replacement of the older airframes, just like Akasa’s rapid induction of airframes earmarked initially for other airlines helped them ramp up quickly.
The 787 will join forces with 27 existing 787 aircraft that need to be refurbished, two coming in from Vistara, and four on order for Vistara with four options on the table. These orders should help Air India farm out far and wide into Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia. Air India could also look at airports in the US with their 787s if they buy the -9 variant. They already operate Delhi – Washington DC with a 787-8.
The 777X comes in for the long haul and may replace flights to the US west coast or other places in North America.
Air India Orders 250 Airbus Aircraft, including 40 widebodies.
Air India has also placed an order for 250 Airbus jets, including 210 A320 family aircraft and 40 A350 aircraft. Amongst existing Air India entities, Air India already has 62 A319/A320/A321 aircraft in its fleet and has signed on for more of these jets. The airline last inducted 26 A320neos on lease a few years ago and now has a few more on order through leasing companies. They will also induct more A321neos, which are being painted now for them.
There are also order backlogs at Vistara which are yet to be filled from their last order for leased aircraft. I am guessing that there will be A321neos and A321XLR aircraft as a part of this order, and we will know more about the variants when the official announcement is made.
On the widebody front, Air India has gone with the A350. Airbus made a big push for the aircraft in India last year, bringing down their demonstration aircraft to India for this product demo. It is well known that Tata Group Chairman Emeritus Mr Ratan Tata visited the aircraft in Mumbai. We will find out with the official announcement about the breakup amongst the Airbus A350-900 and A350-1000 variants. Both have different range capabilities, with the A350-1K operating some of the longest routes on the planet and well-matched to some of the other long-haul equipment capabilities for payload and range.
This is a big win for Airbus since most Indian airlines have long been Boeing customers when it comes to long-haul equipment (leaving aside Jet Airways A330s). So to break into Air India with the A350 is a massive win for them.
Aircraft to start arriving in 2023 itself
While the overall order sets up Air India for the next ten years or so in terms of deliveries, per Business Standard reporting, Air India will also get 300 options, which might help them convert preferred spots on the delivery schedule later. As per sources at Air India, we will have the first A350s to start arriving in India within the year, so that will be a fast conversion. Per Business Standard, 6 A350 aircraft will arrive by 2023. So these are aircraft coming in which were earlier destined for other carriers.
But Business Standard also reports that Air India will receive the 50 737 MAX by 2024. That indicates that these aircraft are already produced and in storage as well.
Air India is all set to announce a historic (for the record books) order which will top the 460-aircraft announcement from American, made in 2011. The orders have already been signed with Airbus and Boeing and will consist of 190 737 MAXs, 20 787 aircraft, 10 Boeing 777X, 210 A320neo family aircraft and 40 A350s. The aircraft delivery starts in 2023 itself. An official announcement is expected from Air India this week, but given both traditional rivals are involved, do not expect a press conference!
What do you think of the size of the Maharaja’s ambition with these order numbers we are talking about?
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