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Air India bleeds more as Dreamliner fleet idles

india Updated: Feb 06, 2013 02:12 IST
Tushar Srivastava
Tushar Srivastava

Dreamliners seem to be a nightmare for ailing Air India, as they are only running up its costs -- and losses.

The airline got its first lot of 787 Dreamliners, the newest jet from plane maker Boeing, four years behind schedule. But it got to fly the planes for hardly four months.

With its half-a-dozen cutting edge planes grounded for 20 days now, on security worries flagged by the US aviation regulator, senior airline officials are worried.

The Dreamliner is central to the turnaround plans of the airline, which has been incurring huge losses for last five years, with accumulated losses since its merger with Indian Airlines in 2007 at around Rs.30,000 crore.

As on July 31, 2012, it had Rs.47,226 crore in outstanding loans, and 95 of its daily flights do not even meet cash cost of operations.

Air India had ordered 27 Dreamliners.

The airline was using the fleet to operate 14 daily flights to destinations such as Paris, Frankfurt and Dubai, which had been bleeding the airline heavily.

With the new planes, some of these sectors had turned cash-positive, with occupancies close to 80%. The 787s have now been replaced with older, fuel-guzzling aircraft on some overseas routes.

“The situation is unprecedented,” said an AI official. “It is exasperating to think that we have got six state-of-the-art aircraft with us that can’t fly.”

Aviation consultancy firm, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (Capa) too has flagged the latest setback to the airline in a research report.

“The national carrier has in the last six months shown a substantial improvement in financial and operational performance, but has suffered a major setback with the grounding of the B787,” it said.

If the delay drags, it will impact the viability of AI’s international operations, Capa said.

“The aircraft helped us save on fuel expenses. We were getting good business as there was huge passenger interest in the planes,” the AI official said.

“We are worried this might create a safety scare, which could hit business even after we re-start.”

“Pilots trained to operate 787s are sitting idle. If the grounding is prolonged, they will have to be re-trained on another aircraft — creating more mess,” he said.