• Air India Group to add 100 planes to fleet in 4 years: Chief Ashwani Lohani

    Switching into expansion mode, the Air India Group has decided to add 100 planes to its current fleet of 132 in the next four years. All airlines within the group — parent AI, AI Express and Alliance Air — will get more aircraft under the plan. This time the airline will opt for leasing, unlike the 111-aircraft order of UPA-I when planes were bought.

    “By March 31, 2020, AI group will have 232 planes. While nine aircraft (six Boeing 787s and three B-777) are from the previous order (of 111 planes), the rest will be new orders for leasing planes. We are going to grow aggressively and fight for leadership across segments,” AI chairman Ashwani Lohani told TOI.

    The parent AI currently has 41 wide-body aircraft of Boeing including 747, 777 and 787. “We will induct 14 more wide-body aircraft. By the end of this year when we get some Dreamliners, we will add Delhi-Madrid and have direct connectivity between India and Spain. This will be a first for India,” Lohani said. AI is looking at launching one-stop flights to US, apart from its trademark non-stop.

    AI will take on lease 40 more Airbus A-320s for the erstwhile Indian Airlines that serves domestic and nearby international routes. It currently has 66 Airbus family narrow-body planes.
    AI’s regional arm, Alliance Air, currently has 12 turboprops and five of them will return by the year-end, leaving it with seven planes.

    “We will order 35 more turboprops,” said Lohani. The airline will get 10 more ATR-72 by the end of this fiscal and is aiming for a fleet size of 43 by the end of 2018. “AI Express, which currently has 17 Boeing 737s, will get 18 more B-737s,” the chairman said. He added the airline will simultaneously start working on crew recruitment and finalising other logistics for the proposed fleet expansion.

    AI is going to have a small operating profit this year and is focussed on increasing its revenue. However, the annual debt servicing of Rs 4,000 crore remains a sore point with the airline.

    Air India chief Ashwani Lohani had recently told AI employees in a letter that the Maharaja’s “survival will remain at stake” till it is able to cover the annual debt servicing cost of Rs 4,000 crore. “This (operating profit) is just the first milestone and the airline still has a long way to go to meet its total costs…. The target for full turnaround is FY 2018-19, maybe a year earlier and till then our financial position shall continue to remain tight,” he said in the letter to employees. AI has loans of Rs 48,400 crore. Ryan Fitzpatrick Authentic Jersey

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