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Air India to lease 30 aircraft including 5 Boeing B777-200LRs

While we were all expecting a major order from Air India for new aircraft, including the Airbus A350s, the airline has announced a different plan, which looks like an immediate step towards renewing the fleet. Air India has today announced that it is leasing 30 aircraft, out of which 25 are A320neo family aircraft and 5 are Boeing B777-200LRs (Long Range) aircraft.

Fleet expansion

Air India will lease 21 Airbus A320neo aircraft, 4 A321neo aircraft and 5 B777-200LRs. These new aircraft, which will enter service from late 2022, will increase the airline’s fleet by over 25%. Not counting the 10 long-grounded narrow-body and 6 wide-body aircraft that have been returned to service in recent months, these new aircraft mark the first major fleet expansion since Air India’s acquisition by the Tata Group in January this year.

The B777-200LRs will join the fleet between December 2022 and March 2023, and will be deployed on routes from Indian metro cities to the United States.

The 4 A321neo aircraft are expected to join the Air India fleet in the first quarter of calendar year 2023, while the 21 A320neo will be inducted in the second half of 2023. These aircraft will be deployed on domestic sectors as well as to short-haul international destinations.

After a long time without significant growth, Air India is delighted to resume expanding its fleet and global footprint. These new aircraft, together with existing aircraft being returned to service, address an immediate need for more capacity and connectivity, and mark a strong step forward. Air India has exciting expansion and renewal plans, of which these new aircraft are just the beginning.

said Campbell Wilson, CEO & Managing Director, Air India.

Air India’s narrow-body fleet currently stands at 70 aircraft, of which 54 are in service; the remaining 16 aircraft will progressively return to service by early 2023. Similarly, Air India’s wide-body fleet currently stands at 43 aircraft, of which 33 are operational. The rest will return to service by early 2023.

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U.S. network enhancement using B777s

As aforementioned, Air India will deploy the 5 newly-leased B777-200LRs on flights to the United States. Using these aircraft, the Indian full service carrier will launch the following new routes:

  • Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport to San Francisco International Airport
  • Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport
  • Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport (Air India already operates 3-weekly service between these two airports)
  • Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport to San Francisco International Airport

Air India has also announced that it will introduce Premium Economy for the first time.

This leads to a question that from where is Air India leasing these aircraft? My guess would be that Air India is leasing the B777s that Delta Airlines retired during the pandemic. This is because Air India is introducing Premium Economy cabin on these B777s and Delta’s B777s had a Premium Economy cabin. If this is the case and Air India goes ahead with the configuration that Delta had on these B777s, then passengers are in a treat for sure!

Delta’s B777s featured the signature Delta One Suites in a 1-2-1 configuration, which will be a significant upgrade from Air India’s current 2-2-2 configured Business Class found on its current B777 and B787 fleet. Also, Delta’s B777s featured a 3-3-3 configured Economy Class cabin, which is better for passengers than a rather tight 3-4-3 configuration.

Delta One Suites

If Air India is really leasing Delta’s retired B777s, then it remains to be seen whether Air India goes ahead with Delta’s seat configuration and product.

Looking beyond Delhi to expand

Russian airspace is closed to most of the international airlines, but not to Air India. The airline is currently operating the shortest nonstop flights between India and the United States, as it has permission to use the Russian airspace.

United Airlines, which was the largest U.S. airline operating between India and the US prior the Russian airspace sanctions, is currently operating only two routes to India (Newark-Delhi and Chicago-Delhi). It had to suspend Newark-Mumbai and San Francisco-Delhi in May 2022 due to Russian airspace sanctions.

Air India is taking a full advantage of this situation by augmenting its U.S. network. The airline is also looking beyond Delhi for its international long-haul network.

Mumbai has always lagged behind in terms of the number of the flights to the United States, with only flights to the New York area. Air India will be the first airline to operate flights between Mumbai and San Francisco, thus tapping into a totally new market.

On the other hand, Air India has in the past operated Bengaluru-San Francisco. It is making a comeback on this route, this time with a increase 3-weekly frequency. United’s Bengaluru-San Francisco and American Airlines’ Bengaluru-Seattle flight plans are on a hold for now due to the closure of Russian airspace and unavailability of long-haul aircraft.

First step in the Fleet renewal plan

It’s truly good to see Air India capitalizing on the current demand by introducing new routes to the US, thus grabbing a major market share in the India-US market.

Air India says that this is the first step in the fleet renewal process. It is good to see that the airline is renewing the fleet with more fuel efferent aircraft (except the fuel guzzling B777-200LRs 😉), a major aircraft order to replace the ageing B777-300ERs and B787s is what I am looking forward to, something which will help Air India in the long-run.

Meanwhile, Air India recently increased the frequency of flights between Delhi and Vancouver to daily.

Featured image by Airliners.net

What do you think of Air India leasing 30 aircraft for immediate expansion? Let me know in the comments section below.

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