Air India is close to gaining government approval for a major aircraft order with Boeing after years of delay. The state-owned carrier has secured approval from a government panel for its order of up to 68 aircraft, leaving only one layer of approval still to be secured.

The latest came from the Public Investment Board, which said it was satisfied Air India should be allowed to order up to 50 777 and 787 widebodies and 18 737-800 narrowbodies to help it expand its international operations.

Civil aviation secretary Ajay Prasad said Air India’s request will now be sent to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs. Once that approval is secured, a formal agreement can be finalised with Boeing. Air India says it is hopeful deliveries can begin late in 2006.

Air India has been considering a fleet expansion for years but attempts to order new aircraft have been delayed many times. In April its board approved the proposal to seek government approval to buy 20 787-8s, 10 777-300ERs and five 777-200LRs, plus 15 options, in addition to 18 737-800s for low-cost subsidiary Air India Express.

Indian Airlines has also been planning a fleet modernisation for years and recently secured final government approval to order 43 Airbus narrowbodies. Both airlines have been forced to rely on leasing in recent years to expand their fleets to enable them to better compete with growing privately owned Indian carriers and foreign airlines that have been securing more rights to serve the country.

Source: Airline Business