Air India Ltd, the country’s state-owned carrier that is merging with its affiliate Indian Airlines Ltd, could be the second airline in India to fly the world’s largest passenger aircraft, the Airbus SAS’ A380, five years from now.
Air India is considering ordering eight of the super-jumbos, which would cost around $320 million or Rs1,293 crore each at list prices, and can fly more than 850 passengers in an all-economy seat configuration on long-haul routes such as Mumbai-London.
The UB Group-owned Kingfisher Airlines Ltd is the only Indian carrier so far to have ordered the A380, five of them, and is planning to start operations between Mumbai and London and on the Bangalore-San Francisco route starting 2011. However, given the delays in delivery that had plagued the double-decker aircraft, Kingfisher is yet to firm up options for buying another five A380.
The other buyers for the super-jumbo in Asia are Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways.
Airbus confirmed that talks were on with Air India for the A380s.
“They (talks) are going in the right direction,” said an official at the aircraft maker who didn’t want his name used.
Typically, negotiated rates for large orders get hefty discounts from the list prices of such aircraft.
Airbus has already checked Mumbai and Delhi airports for operational efficiency for the A380 and estimates India would need about 60 (including Kingfisher’s five) such large aircraft by 2025, including some for the growing air cargo industry.
Most of Air India’s long-haul aircraft fleet, with the exception of planes used by Indian Airlines, use Boeing Co.’s planes. The combined company will have 68 long-haul Boeing planes by 2011 along with 43 medium-haul Airbus A320s that have already been ordered by Indian Airlines.
The orders for these 111 aircraft, booked in 2005 after a gap of decades, will mostly replace the carrier’s old fleet while adding just a handful of extra planes.
But Air India, as the merged airline will be called, has concluded that the combined fleet size will not be enough, so now it wants to order the A380s and take deliveries by 2012.
Air India sees an average market growth of 16-18% over the next five years along with aggressive aircraft acquisition plans by rival private carriers. Also, “the (2004) business plan did not factor the merged entity being part of a global alliance,” the airline said at a presentation last month, which was attended by civil aviation minister Praful Patel and Air India chairman and managing director V. Thulasidas.
Air India is widely expected be the preferred partner for Star Alliance, a global grouping of airlines, that will allow it to expand and share its network across member airlines. While some members of the alliance privately prefer Jet Airways, Air India has the backing of German heavyweight Lufthansa and is likely to be the one to be picked.
Over the next few years, Air India plans to push forward its international operations with a new fleet. It plans its first non-stop flight for Mumbai-New York from 1 August with a Boeing 777-200 LR.
Similar connections are planned to other business capitals in the US, Europe, Africa and South America.
Some of the high-volume routes that the proposed Air India A380s could fly include to London’s Heathrow Airport, from Mumbai and Delhi, as well as Munich, Chicago and New York, the airline said in the presentation.
“Even to get aircraft after that (2012), we need to start booking for it now,” said Thulasidas in a recent interview. “A composite group of the two airlines is already working on the requirement and we will have the results of that group in the next three months.”