On July 22, 2019, Air India Chairman and Managing Director (CMD), Ashwani Lohani has announced new plans to 17 grounded aircraft back to operation. According to the plan, the grounded aircraft are to be used for operating direct Air India flights on the new international routes which were announced recently by the Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri.
Lacking the funds needed for the repairs and upkeep, Air India grounded the 17 aircraft comprising of thirteen A320s, one B747, one B777 and two B787 for time periods varying from 4 months to 9 months. However, Air India recently allocated around Rs. 500 crore for their repairs.
By the end of August, Air India plans to bring 8 of these 17 aircraft including four A320s, one B747, one B777 and two B787, back into working condition. While the rest of the 17 grounded aircraft, Air India’s nine A320s are to be repaired by the end of October if upkeep funds are received in time.
The national carrier aims to increase revenue and improve the operational viability before its sale by retrieving the grounded aircraft for operating direct Air India flights on the recently announced international routes including Kolkata to Dubai, Delhi to Toronto, and Mumbai to Nairobi. The announcement to retrieve all of its 17 aircraft by the end of October came amid the government’s repeated attempts to sell the loss-making national carrier.
In the first budget of the newly elected Modi government, India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman mentioned the government’s interest in selling Air India since the national carrier is unable to generate any profits. In fact, Air India suffered a heavy loss of Rs. 7600 crore during the year 2018-19, accumulating a debt of Rs. 58,300 crore. Hardeep Singh Puri also reassured Rajya Sabha about the commitment, the Indian Government has, to disinvest the debt-ridden national carrier.
However, the repeated attempts to privatize the national carrier failed in 2018 as the government was unable to sell its 76% stake in loss-making Air India due to a lack of interested buyers. The government is also struggling to sell Air India’s profitable subsidiary Air Transport Management Ltd as the process to sell lays stuck due to various concerns raised by prospective buyers.
The plans for retrieving the 17 grounded aircraft came after US FAA alerted Air India about the safety risks posed by its B787 Dreamlines as well as suggested new fixes and upgrades. Air India agreed to replace the risky components of its B787 aircraft as per new FAA guidelines within five years. Air India’s B787s are used for operating long-haul international flights from India to USA and other major destinations.