Air India's plans to fly out of the red may be delayed by its six Dreamliners sitting on the tarmac as investigators check onboard battery systems that are at risk of overheating. Boeing introduced the 787, its greenest jetliner that consumes 20% less fuel than comparable long-range wide-bodied aircraft, in 2011. The Dreamliner is a creature of significant innovations in aircraft manufacturing and a few bugs, it is to be expected, can only be fixed after the world's most technologically advanced jet logs some commercial miles. Air India's six are part of the 50 787s grounded across the globe and the carrier along with others can reasonably expect Boeing to compensate it for the losses it suffers on account of disrupted services.
The Cabinet had last April cleared the purchase of 27 Dreamliners in an effort to turn the bleeding State-owned airline around. This was part of a larger package in which the government committed itself to pump in R30,000 crore of equity over eight years on condition that the airline began a long and painful journey to profitability. The government also agreed to stand guarantee to a rollover of Air India's debts, principally to pay oil companies, airports and its staff. The lifeline was structured to park two-thirds of the bloated airline's 30,000 workers in ground handling and maintenance subsidiaries, fly only one empty seat in every four in its fleet and reach destinations on time nine times out of ten. The bigger fleet and extra cash were intended for Air India to earn Rs 5,000 crore more and run on Rs 4,000 crore less every year. To do this, the airline must cart 17 million people in 2015. If it pulls it off, Air India could fly out of the red as early as 2017.
The Dreamliner sat very well in this scheme of things. It costs significantly less to operate and Air India had managed to fly them three-fourths full on six lucrative international and domestic routes. A safety audit of the jets when more of them had been delivered to Air India would have been a bigger setback for the airline.