While Air India did a brand reveal a couple of days ago, there were also many more pieces of information served up when the CEO, Campbell Wilson, turned up on the stage for his address to the audience on the day of the reveal. One would remember that Air India had earlier committed USD 400 Million for a cabin upgrade programme across the existing widebody fleet of the airline, which would include brand new cabins and the addition of Premium Economy to the aircraft. The company hired London-based JPA Design and Trendworks to assist with this project.
Air India unveils details of aircraft retrofit programme.
Air India was short on details about the retrofit when they initially discussed it, but more details were presented at the event.
The Air India CEO, Campbell Wilson, said that the airline would put its first aircraft into retrofit in H22024 (about a year from now) and that all widebody aircraft in its fleet will undergo a complete retrofit. I presume when he said that, he meant it would exclude the Boeing 777-200LR aircraft (owned by AI) since they will be out of the fleet by then.
The airline had, earlier this year, received Ratan Tata, the Chairman Emeritus of the Tata Group, at their headquarters, and he was involved in the decision-making process of the products that would be put out from Air India.
Coming to the retrofit, here is how the Boeing 777-300ER will look once new products are installed on the aircraft. Have a look.
Air India to retain First Class on the Boeing 777
There is a lot to unpack on that video, and the first thing that instantly strikes is that Air India will hold on to the First Class section on the Boeing 777-300ER. If I get the LOPA of the aircraft correctly, there will be only one row of First Class (four seats) on these aircraft.
Air India will use the Safran Unity platform in a 1-2-1 configuration in their First Class cabin. This seat platform, launched in 2022, will take flight with the Project Sunrise A350 aircraft, which will fly with Qantas first. From the looks of it, Air India will also retain the same seat platform for its business-class cabin.
With this product choice, Air India will bring doors to its first-class cabin, a wider ottoman and perhaps even a larger television screen. The airline will have the cabin in burgundy colours with gold trimmings.
By flying the same seat product in both F & J cabins, I assume Air India will be able to save on spares, and they get to maintain one less parts inventory. Apart from that, this sounds like more of a Business Plus product, such as that from Virgin Atlantic on their A330neos recently. But if they create an elevated service design in this cabin, then they can make the premium to sell this cabin.
Air India’s Business Class to get privacy and doors
Now this is the one I’m most excited about. Air India’s choice of the Safran Unity platform enables the airline to add doors to their business class cabin. The airline will distribute its business class cabin in two parts, as many other airlines do, and have 40 seats in the cabin in a 1-2-1 layout again. This is a net increase of five seats from the current 2-3-2 configuration that runs across the cabins.
As you can see, the same seat with features such as wireless charging is also coming to the business class cabin, albeit with a smaller screen. But having said that, I’m pretty foxed by the choice of colours for the seat upholstery, given blue and tans are not anywhere in the colour scheme of the airline. Is this just a stand-in CGX? We will see. At least there are roomier seats with the angled flat ones going away.
The airline is already gaining experience flying the ex-Delta 777LRs for service protocols on the privacy-enabled business class and besides helps them assess the demand for their product.
Air India to introduce a Premium Economy cabin.
Air India will also introduce a premium economy product in their fleet, and it will go with a 2-4-2 configuration with the Premium Economy Cabin, housing 40 seats. The seat selected is the Recaro PL3530, which has an individually adjustable calf rest and additional storage compartments. This seat has also been used on the Vistara 787-9; hence, in a post-merger world, both airlines will have uniformity and common spares pool.
Air India Economy moves to 10-abreast.
The economy cabin configuration on the retrofitted aircraft will move from a 3-3-3 configuration to a 3-4-3. The mid-section cabin will have 13 rows, and assuming the back of the plane has the same, the aircraft should get in about 260 seats (compared to the current 303 seats) in Economy class. I assume that also comes with reducing the 31″ seat pitch to 30″. The seat is probably the Recaro CL3710, which has already been fitted on over 50 carriers. That cabin has a very Jet Airways 777 vibe, with all the red all over the economy cabin.
The aircraft will overall become denser and go to approximately 344 seats compared to the 342 on the earlier configuration. So, while the capacity is being kept the same, it becomes more premium whenever it comes around. If this is any indication, the 256-seater 787-8s in Air India’s fleet should also become denser, and they will move from a 2-cabin configuration to 3-cabins.
Whether the same product will be housed on the A350-1000s and other new aircraft of the airline, such as the 777X, remains to be seen.
Air India has revealed the details of its new interiors, including all new cabins, as they will appear on the 777-300ERs, the first aircraft to enter the shop for a retrofit. The airline is moving to fully-flat seats with doors on the business and first-class cabins, adding a premium economy to the mix and overall densifying the aircraft. The first aircraft to have these products will be arriving in September 2024 or such date.
What do you make of Air India’s new long-haul products and the timelines?
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