State-owned Air India and Indian Airlines are finally moving forward with long-delayed and badly needed modernisations that will help them expand after years of slow growth.
International operator Air India has confirmed its intention to order 18 narrowbody aircraft and up to 17 widebodies, and is assessing detailed proposals from both Airbus and Boeing.
Meanwhile, Indian Airlines, which primarily operates domestic routes but which also has international services to points in Asia and the Middle East, is hoping the government will soon approve a proposed order for 43 Airbus A320-family aircraft.
The two state-owned carriers currently use only around one-third of the international rights to which they are entitled under air-services agreements, partly because they do not have the capacity necessary for expansion.
Neither airline has placed a sizeable order for new aircraft for more than 10 years, but they are both now further along in their fleet planning than at any other stage in recent memory, giving manufacturers hope that deals will finally be concluded.
Air India's board met on 24 January, when a formal decision was taken to shortlist the Airbus A321 and Boeing 737-900, and accept the recommendation of a technical committee to acquire 18 of either type. The aircraft will mainly replace Airbus A310s that are flown on regional routes.
The board also decided that firm orders would be placed for 10 widebodies - either Airbus A340-300s or Boeing 777-200ERs - and options taken on another seven airliners. Long-range aircraft are expected to be used primarily for increased services to the USA and Europe.
The French government has, meanwhile, stepped in to try to help Airbus firm up the proposed Indian Airlines order. French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin met the Indian prime minister and other top government officials in New Delhi on 7 February, where the deal was discussed. India has promised a quick decision.
The airline said in March last year that its board had selected Airbus narrowbodies over 737s and wanted to order 43 aircraft in a mixture of A319s, A320s and A321s in what will be the largest-ever aircraft purchase deal in Indian history.
But any firm decisions on aircraft orders are taken by the government and the approval process can take time. After a state-owned airline's board makes its recommendations, several government departments must study order proposals.
Jet Airways, India's largest private carrier, flies 32 of the 34 Boeing 737s it has government permission to operate. However, after slipping into the red last year it has reined in its growth plans and will only take delivery of one aircraft this year - its first 737-900 - and is looking to phase out four 737-400s.
NICHOLAS IONIDES MUMBAI
Source: Airline Business