Air India to restore grounded fleet for capacity ramp up amid competition

According to a report in The Business Standard, Air India is set to increase capacity on domestic and international routes over the next few months as it overhauls its grounded aircraft. Air India has the approval to operate 2,456 flights per week in the summer schedule. This is more than a 16 per cent increase over 2020. But its international schedule has declined 41 per cent (compared to winter 2019) to 361 weekly departures. Now the airline — under the control of Tata Group — is working on a plan to press into service grounded planes in a progressive manner. The ramp-up will be crucial in the backdrop of increased competition in the domestic market and rebound in international travel after successive waves of the Covid-19 pandemic. Around 30 of Air India’s 113 aircraft have been grounded for varying periods due to lack of engine overhaul or nonavailability of components and spares. These include aircraft from both the Airbus and Boeing fleet, such as Airbus A320, and Boeing 777 and 787. According to maintenance norms, an aircraft needs to undergo checks after completion of stipulated number of hours and days. Engines, too, need periodic overhauls. Aircraft have certain life-limited parts that need replacement after specific hours of flying. Due to its financial crisis, Air India was unable to carry out these maintenance tasks on time, resulting in the grounding of planes. Some of the Airbus A320 aircraft are said to be grounded for two years. With the situation having changed now, the airline has ordered the required components and spares. It has also leased a certain number of CFM engines that power its Airbus A320 aircraft, it is learnt.

According to a source, 8-10 A320 aircraft are being restored at the AI Engineering Services hangars. There is a plan to make the Boeing 787s ready for service in the next 90-100 days, said a person in the know. “Funds are not an issue,” said an executive. The challenge, he said, is timely delivery of components and spares that have long lead times and need to be ordered months in advance. In the past, orders were not placed promptly due to funds crunch, the source added. Tata Group’s idea is to salvage any aircraft it can and also seek new planes to take on competition. It has been engaging with plane manufacturers — Airbus and Boeing — for new aircraft as it looks to turn around the airline. Air India did not respond specifically on aircraft restoration and capacity expansion plans. “We would like to state that Air India is focused on offering world-class product and service to its passengers in every area of functioning. An all-out systematic effort is being made to revamp processes and procedures to enhance experience for all its esteemed passengers,” Air India said in a statement. Ameya Joshi,founder of aviation blog Network Thoughts, said, “Air India has been losing market share on domestic routes after being No. 2 in February. This could be because capacity is pulled out of the market for one of two reasons – aircraft being unavailable, with the new management deciding not to operate aircraft which do not go well with its image or due to relook at route profitability. On the wide-body side, it has shrunk operations to Europe. With international travel resuming, this is a potential loss of opportunity.”

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