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Air India plans for rapid growth post-privatisation

Air India has prepared plans to increase its fleet to over 250 aircraft over the next five years although that will depend on the outcome of its privatisation process.

Speaking at a panel discussion at the World Routes event, the airline's general manager commercial Purnima Nerukar says that the airline has not taken on any additional aircraft in the past two years but will inevitably have to grow the fleet to keep up with demand.

"Though we have an expansion plan ready, we do have a plan up to 2025, but with the government's privatisation process already begun, we have kept our expansion plans on hold," she says.

"In fact, we have a plan to ramp up our fleet to more than 250 aircraft over the next four to five years. That's the plan we already have made, and we are waiting for a new owner to come and look at this plan."

By comparison, Cirium fleets data show that Air India has 127 aircraft in its fleet, of which 12 are listed as in storage.

A high-level cabinet committee is overseeing the planned privatisation of the wholly government-owned carrier and is expected to open expressions of interest before the end of the year.

An attempt last year to sell a 76% stake in Air India failed to attract a single bidder despite initial strong interest from some parties for various parts of the airline's operations.

Now, however, a major portion of the airline's debt is being shifted across to a special purpose vehicle that will sell some of its non-core assets, which is expected to make it more attractive to potential investors.

With no aircraft on order or committed leases, the carrier has had to rely on boosting utilisation to ramp up its capacity, especially since the grounding of key rival Jet Airways in April.

That has also meant ensuring that some of its aircraft that had been grounded due to maintenance in 2018 were returned to service quickly.

"We had a significant part of our fleet that was grounded last year, but this year with more funds being given to our maintenance programmes of our fleet, we do have some capacity additions to our fleet," says Nerukar.

The additional capacity being unlocked from its existing fleet will allow it to launch services to Toronto on 27 September. The flight is being operated thrice-weekly using Boeing 777-300ERs.

Nerukar adds that that there are plans to ramp up its frequency on the route, " depending on how our divestment process goes forward."

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