Air India received its first of three 737-800s last week, and is looking to acquire another 23 of the type, plus up to 66 new widebodies.

The 737-800 fleet, to be operated by new low-fare subsidiary Air India Express, is a new type for the carrier. Air India Express plans to launch in late April, initially serving three cities in southern India and six destinations in the Middle East. Services to four additional Indian cities and three South-East Asian destinations will be added later in the year.

Managing director V Thulasidas says five of the 23 737-800s and 16 of the 66 widebodies will be leased, but all the other aircraft will be purchased. Air India has already secured board approval and launched tenders for the aircraft to be purchased and pending government approval, Thulasidas expects orders for 18 737s will be placed in April and for 50 widebodies in June or July.

He says the widebody order will include eight ultra-long-haul aircraft, plus 42 widebodies in a mix of 250-seat and 350-seat configurations. The Airbus A340-500 and Boeing 777-200LR are being evaluated for the airline's ultra long-haul needs, the A340-600 and 777-300ER for the 350-seat requirement and the A330-200 and 787-3 for the 250-seat requirement.

Air India is also evaluating offers to take up to 16 widebodies on lease in 2006, because the first of the 50 purchased aircraft are not likely to be delivered until early 2007. Thulasidas says Air India could use more widebodies in 2005, but lessors have not been able to offer any A330s or 777s in that time period. Air India will have to consider leasing one type and ordering another type because availability is so tight. "You have to take whatever aircraft are available," he says.

Thulasidas says he hopes to get Indian government approval for the 18 purchased aircraft by the end of March, paving the way for an April order and deliveries starting 12 months later.

Air India also launched tenders in January to lease three Airbus A310 freighters and one Boeing 747-400 freighter for delivery in the first half of 2005, but Thulasidas says the leasing companies that responded are only offering aircraft from 2006.


Source: Flight International