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March 2, 2024
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UPDATED – Air India has signed Letters of Intent with Boeing and Airbus to acquire 470 aircraft, including 400 narrowbodies and 70 widebody aircraft from the two global manufacturers. This is the largest aircraft order placed by an Indian carrier.

The order comprises 34 Airbus A350-1000s, six A350-900s, 20 Boeing 787-9s (plus 20 options), and 10 Boeing 777-9s widebody aircraft, as well as 140 Airbus A320neos, 70 A321neos, and 190 Boeing 737 MAX 8 and -10 single-aisle aircraft. Air India also has options on 50 MAX. The A350 aircraft will be powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines and the B777/787s by GE Aerospace engines. Rolls-Royce says the A350-1000 order also includes options for another 20 engines. It is the biggest Trent XWB order in the company’s history and the first in India. All single-aisle aircraft will be powered by CFM International LEAPs, which means the order is for 800 engines plus spares.

The Air India statement adds that the first of the new aircraft (A350s) will enter service in late-2023. These are probably aircraft originally ordered by Aeroflot that are currently in storage in Toulouse. AirInsight identified two A350-900 “white tails” and one with Aeroflot-livery in Toulouse during a visit on February 15. The bulk of the aircraft is to arrive from mid-2025 onwards. In the interim, Air India has already started taking delivery of 11 leased 777 and 25 A320 aircraft to accelerate its fleet and network expansion.
The acquisition of new aircraft, which will come with an entirely new cabin interior, complements Air India’s previously announced plan to refit its existing widebody B787 and B777 aircraft with new seats and inflight entertainment systems. The first of these refitted aircraft will enter service in mid-2024,” Air India said.

Letter of Intent

Earlier in the day, N Chandrasekaran, Chairman of Tata Sons, announced the Letter of Intent to acquire the 250 Airbus aircraft. In a video call attended by Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, Guillaume Faury, Chief Executive Officer, Airbus among others, Chandrasekaran said the airline also has “significant options” (in this order) for the fleet order once the airline grows. The Tata Sons Chairman said that the Airbus global CEO and his team worked with Tata Sons for almost two years even before they had won the contract for Air India. Still, today’s announcements with both Airbus and Boeing need to be finalized. How Tata is financing this bumper order has not been disclosed.

Addressing the gathering, Prime Minister Modi said that in the near future, India will become the third-largest aviation market and according to several estimates India will need 2.000 aircraft in the next 15 years. “The historic announcement today will help in catering to this increasing demand,” the Indian Prime Minister said. He said that the agreement was an important step in the India-France strategic partnership.

Addressing the gathering, President Macron, said Airbus is contributing to the development of India and the 250 aircraft order which will be delivered to AI will be another step in that direction. “There is a deep commitment in France to provide the state of the art and most efficient technologies available to India and to be part of the Make in India strategy,” the French President said. He added that “we want to build more with India and the end of the pandemic should lead to more exchanges between our two countries.”

Guillaume Faury said that the 250 aircraft order demonstrates the appetite for growth in the Indian aviation industry which is the fastest growing in the world. The time is right for India to turn into an international hub and we believe that the Airbus 350 will trigger a change of paradigm in long-haul travel that matches the aspirations of India and its people,” he said. The Airbus CEO said that the A350 will turn into the flagship of the transcontinental service and the A320neo will remain the undisputed flagship for the domestic and regional service.

Boeing order

The Boeing order for 290 aircraft was to be announced during a video call with US President Biden. Air India CEO Campbell Wilson said in a media statement: “These new airplanes will enable us to dramatically expand our network, both domestically and internationally, and will come with a completely new, world-class onboard product enabling passengers to travel in the highest levels of comfort and safety. With this order, we are delighted to take our long relationship with Boeing to a new level.” 

Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Stan Deal said: “Air India’s selection of Boeing’s family of passenger jets shows their confidence in our products and services in the world’s fastest-growing aviation market, and their decision will support engineering and manufacturing jobs at Boeing factories in Washington state, South Carolina and across our supply base.” The Boeing contract also includes agreements with Boeing Global Services for lifecycle support services, including digital solutions, spare parts, and landing gear exchange programs, pilot and maintenance technician training, aircraft modifications, and other services.

Previous big orders in India

Tata Sons won the bid for Air India in October 2021 but took over officially only in January last year. Tuesday’s deal is not the first three-figure aircraft deal that has been inked by an Indian carrier. At the end of 2016, SpiceJet placed an order with Boeing which could see it acquire up to 205 Boeing aircraft including 100 Boeing MAX 8.

In 2019 IndiGo placed a firm order for 300 A320 NEO family aircraft. At that time, it marked one of Airbus’ largest aircraft orders ever with a single airline operator. IndiGo orders comprised a mix of A320 NEO, A321 NEO, and A321XLR aircraft taking IndiGo’s total number of A320 NEO family aircraft orders to 730.

(Additional reporting by Addison Schonland and Richard Schuurman)

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Former Senior Deputy Editor at Business Line (aka The Hindu Business Line)

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