India’s national carrier Air India (AI) is incurring heavy losses on its Mumbai-Newark flight due to the massive billboards erected near the Mumbai airport, because of which the airline has to keep around one-third of the seats on its ultra long-haul Boeing 777 jet empty every time it flies.
The “load penalty” is imposed as the aircraft has to fly light and achieve the required lift after take-off for it to clear the billboard hurdle.
“The problem is bizarre. Out of the total seating capacity of 340, eighty seats are kept vacant each time we fly,” a senior AI official said on condition of anonymity.
As a result, sources said, the annual loss on the route was around Rs. 100 crore. AI uses the B777-300 (extended range) range aircraft on the route, which is one of the longest it operates.
The carrier has been pursuing the issue with local authorities so that the billboards, installed by the local municipal authorities, are removed.
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“We have done everything possible to make them see the reason. There were initially five billboards, which were obstructing the flight path. After persistent efforts, four were removed recently. However, another two have come up, which means the problem stands where it was,” the official said.
“We will write to the municipal authorities and the state government. We may have no option but to withdraw the flight if nothing works,” said another AI official.