As the mint new Boeing Dreamliner 787 joins the fleet of the financially-crippled Air India, hopes are afloat that the management will make good use of the new generation aircraft and reverse the carrier’s fortunes.
American manufacturer Boeing claims that the Dreamliner, which is made of carbon composite–the same material that is used to build Formula One cars, consumes 15-20 per cent less fuel than other aircraft of the same size. This will substantially help Air-India, given that fuel accounts for 40 per cent of an airline’s total operational costs and aviation turbine fuel (ATF) cost in India is among the highest in the world (`73,711 per kilo litre in Delhi against `45,000 per kl in Dubai and `60,000 per kl in Singapore). In fact, Air India’s fuel bill in the last fiscal was to the tune of ` 8,000 crore.
As per the given schedule, Air India will take delivery of five more B787s by the end of this year, another seven in 2013, five in 2014, six in 2015 and three in 2016. The airline needs to add more planes to its fleet to expand its share in the domestic as well as international market.
“We need more aircraft but that is a long term plan and will be done only after the approval of the Cabinet,” says Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh, adding that Air India has set up a committee to look into its future aircraft requirement.
The airline proposes to deploy the new Dreamliner on the Delhi-Chennai-Bangalore-Delhi route from September 19. Later, it plans to deploy the aircraft on the long-haul international sectors.
“The Dreamliner will start flying on domestic routes from September 19. The first flight will be on the Delhi-Chennai route. Later on, six more destinations will be added. It will fly on international routes in winter,” Air India CMD Rohit Nandan said while inducting the aircraft.
Former executive director of Air India and sector specialist Jitender Bhargava questions the rationale behind the decision. “It is not a sensible decision (to operate the Dreamliner) on a short haul route. It should be used only on long haul sectors,” he argues.
Not everyone agrees. An Air India pilot requesting anonymity says: “You cannot have a person with a learner’s licence driving on a highway. Similarly we need to first gain experience on the Dreamliner before we take it on long hauls. Both the cockpit and cabin crew need to first understand the aircraft; only then can we fly it to long haul destinations. By winter, we will fly it on the Delhi-London, Delhi-Melbourne routes.”
On being asked if the Dreamliner induction could change the fortunes of Air India, Bhargava says: “An aircraft can’t change the fortunes of the airline; only the management can do that. Policies change fortunes. Good policies differentiate a good carrier from a bad carrier.”
With the government committed to providing `30,000 crore to the carrier, the government has made it clear to the carrier that it needs to do aggressive cost-cutting to become more competitive. The airline has been asked to withdraw from loss-making international sectors, sell unused properties abroad and have fewer staff in expensive centres like New York and Tokyo.