Air India's board is to consider proposals for the purchase of dozens of new aircraft in the coming weeks and expects firm orders to be placed around the middle of 2008. It is meanwhile hoping to be accepted as a member of the Star Alliance by the end of this year.

India's civil aviation minister Praful Patel said in an interview in New Delhi with Flight International sister publication Airline Business that the carrier's board is likely to clear purchase proposals by the end of the year, after which government approval can be sought.

Air India recently merged with fellow state-owned carrier Indian Airlines and the enlarged airline has been in the process of adding 111 new aircraft from both Airbus and Boeing from previous orders.

"We now feel that [a new order is needed] because of post-merger and because of the fact that most of the older aircraft need to be retired from the fleet. We are going to go the Lufthansa or Singapore Airlines way to have a young fleet primarily, so we want to retire the older fleet and we are looking at anything from 50 to 100 aircraft," says Patel.

"It would be a combination of long haul and, of course, short haul. The airline will finalise in a month's time what would be their requirement, then they can formally approach the government after their board decides, hopefully by the end of the year, and then the government will be able to give its permission for them to move the process forward."

He adds: "We feel that it is possible to finish this entire process by the middle of next year with a firm order."

Meanwhile, Patel says Air India hopes to receive formal confirmation from the Star Alliance soon that its membership application has been accepted. He says that "we would be happy to see Air India join the alliance at the earliest", adding that the alliance has pledged to take a formal decision in December and that so far all signs are encouraging.

He also says an initial public offering is planned for Air India for the second half of the next fiscal year ending 31 March 2009. Around 10-15% will be sold publicly and around 5% will be given to employees.