Around 10 narrow body aircraft of Air India (AI) always remain grounded due to maintenance and aircraft-on-ground (AOG)—problems that are serious enough to prevent an aircraft from flying.
Air India has a fleet of 62 narrow body aircraft—the backbone of domestic air travel. The officials said that three narrow body aircraft are more than 20 years old, and have reached their maximum age, technically called the design service goals.
The Air India planes that are a part of the Boeing A320 family were expected to fly 60,000 hours. The hours that the Air India planes have flown are estimated to cross one lakh hours. The planes have been given an additional dispensation of two years, which means the aircraft manufacturer will provide extended maintenance for two years.“The maintenance schedule becomes tighter,” said officials.
Including the three planes, one-third of the Air India’s fleet has an average age of 18.5 years, which cause more frequent maintenance, compared to new ones resulting in planes being grounded—at an average of 10 planes every day. If a third of the fleet, which is Air India’s agony is left out, the average age of the fleet comes down to seven years.As reported by FE earlier, Air India is looking at leasing 19 aircraft, which was expected to come by 2016.
However, officials said that the leased aircraft will only start coming in 2017, which means Air India will have to continue to fly with a third of its fleet which will be soon be put to bed.The lessors will have to go through a tendering process to win the bids to supply the planes to Air India. “The tender is in process, with at least three lessors in the fray. Once the tender process is over, lessors said that the planes will be available by 2017,” said the ministry officials.
The lessors are participants from Kuwaiti airlines and Chinese airlines.
The grounded fleet also adds to Air India’s maintenance cost, in turn reducing the airlines’ on-time performance, which is 72.7% compared to the desired above 90%. Air India which has a debt of Rs 50,000 crore and accumulated losses of Rs 30,000 crore has its OTP as one of the lowest in the industry.
The older Air India aircraft are also fuel guzzlers, compared to its newer counterparts. Aviation turbine fuel make for 50% of airlines’ cost in India. The new aircraft will help the debt laden carrier improve its performance, but the planes are two years away.
Meanwhile, Air India is raising $330 million through external commercial borrowing (ECB) for aircraft maintenance.
Air India also needs to change its fleet of smaller aircraft, primarily used for regional connectivity in places like Agartala, Guwahati, Pantnagar and Kulu. The planes are CRG-700, which are already 12.5 years old. “These are being replaced by ATR-72. Two new ATRs have already arrived and two more are awaited,” said the ministry official.
The new planes will be critical in Air India’s turnaround plan (TAP), which expects the state-owned carrier to turn profitable by 2022. In the current fiscal, the airlines is expected to post its first year of operation profit, after a decade of losses.