To streamline operations, Air India leases 30 aircraft, introduces premium economy class

New Delhi: Air India announced on Monday that it has leased five Boeing wide-body aircraft and 25 Airbus narrow-body aircraft that will begin flying in December.

Since the Tata Group took control of Air India on January 27, this is the airline’s first major fleet expansion. Because wide-body aircraft have larger fuel tanks, they can fly longer routes, such as between India and the United States.

“The aircraft on lease includes 21 Airbus A320neos, four Airbus A321neos and five Boeing B777-200LRs,” Air India said. The lessors will deliver the planes by the end of 2023, which will help the airline grow its fleet to 143 planes.

Air India has changed its business strategy and now offers passengers premium economy class. All newly leased aircraft offer premium economy. Business and economy classes are available on Air India’s current aircraft. It has a few first-class aircraft in its fleet.

Air India now also offers premium economy after changing its business model. Five B777-200LR aircraft have first class.

The only airline in India with premium economy is Vistara, a 51:49 joint venture between the Tata Group and Singapore Airlines.

Air India is also looking to buy aircraft as part of its fleet expansion efforts and has held talks with Airbus and Boeing in recent months. After a long time has passed since a purchase order was placed for either business, deliveries of new aircraft are expected to begin. As a result, Air India has decided to implement its rapid expansion with leased aircraft.

Air India has a narrow body fleet of 70 aircraft, of which 54 are operational. It has 43 wide-body aircraft in its fleet, of which 33 are flying right now. By the beginning of 2023, the remaining wide-body and narrow-body fleets will gradually start operating again.

According to the airline, the leased B777-200LR aircraft would be added to the fleet between December 2022 and March 2023 and would be used on flights from Indian metropolises to the United States.

“Mumbai will see the addition of flights to San Francisco and both New York area international airports, Newark Liberty and John F Kennedy, while Bangalore will get a 3x weekly service to San Francisco,” it said.

Especially due to the outbreak of the 2020 COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine crisis in February this year, Air India’s flights have been in significant demand on routes between India and the United States and between India and Canada.

Since the onset of COVID-19, the number of one-stop flights between India and the US via Beijing or Hong Kong has decreased significantly. After the start of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Russia banned American and Canadian airlines from operating in Ukrainian airspace, forcing airlines such as United to reduce air traffic between India and the United States.

The four A321neos mentioned above are expected to enter Air India’s fleet in the first quarter of 2023, while 21 A320neos will be inducted in the second half of 2023, Air India said.

These narrow-body planes operate on both domestic and short-haul foreign routes.

Air India raised the retirement age of its pilots from 58 to 65 two months ago amid plans to grow its fleet.

“Long without significant growth, Air India is delighted to continue expanding its fleet and global footprint… Air India has exciting expansion and renewal plans, of which these new aircraft are just the beginning,” said Campbell Wilson, President and CEO of Air India.

Campbell had earlier this month stated that Air India is revising its flight plans, holding nightly meetings and requiring staff to accurately record flight delays and their causes to improve the airline’s on-time performance (OTP).

On October 8 last year, the Tata Group won the Air India auction with a bid of Rs 18,000 crore.

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