India’s second largest airline Jet Airways said on Thursday that it is evaluating the purchase of 75 narrow-bodied aircraft worth about $7-8.5 billion. Jet CEO Vijay Dube said an order for the planes could be announced shortly. The company currently operates 119 aircraft and, together with JetLite, has a 16.6% share of the Indian market. However, the full-service carrier, which reported revenues of Rs 22,692 crore in 2016-17, did not specify whether the aircraft manufacturer is US-based Boeing or Europe’s Airbus. Jet had announced in October 2017 it was looking to place an order for Boeing’s new version of the narrow-body aircraft type MAX. However, on Thursday, the management did not specify whether the narrow-body planes being purchased would be the Boeing variant or one from Airbus. “We hope to close a deal very soon with one of the manufacturers. We were hoping to do it by the end of this fiscal but it may push a little further now,” Dube said. He was speaking to the media on the sidelines of the three-day annual aviation summit, Wings, at Hyderabad, where both Airbus and Boeing executives are present. If Boeing loses the deal to Airbus it would mean a near-monopoly status for the European manufacturer which already commands a 60% market share. Budget airline SpiceJet flies narrow-bodied Boeing 737s but the country’s largest airline, IndiGo, has a fleet of 154 aircraft that are all Airbus A320s (with some ATRs). The Tata Group-promoted Vistara, which currently flies A320s and will add the 20th aircraft to its fleet this month, too is mulling expansion of its fleet.
Jet currently has a mixed fleet of 119 aircraft with Boeing 737s, 777s and Airbus’ A350s. Dube said the airline has not taken a final call on going ahead with the 787-Dreamliner order for wide-body planes. Boeing had mentioned earlier this week Jet’s deal for this aircraft type was not yet confirmed. When questioned if the deal was off, Dube said, “We have not cancelled the order officially, it is not something that we have finalised, ” adding that at this point the airline is not short of aircraft. The carrier’s gross debt is close to Rs 8,400 crore and the company is looking to pare it by about Rs 1,300 crore over the next couple of years. Although an early entrant, Jet has not expanded as fast as low-cost airlines. Market leader IndiGo commands a market share of 39.7% while SpiceJet has a share of 12.6%. At close to Rs 4.50 per km, its yield is higher than IndiGo’s. Fleet additions together with more pilots, as reported in the media this week, could help Jet grow its share of the pie.