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Air India’s first Airbus A350 aircraft arrives, to enter commercial service in January

In September 2023, Air India completed the acquisition of its first Airbus A350-900 aircraft through a finance lease transaction with HSBC.

Air India’s first A350-900 widebody aircraft arrived in India on Saturday, making the Tata group carrier the first Indian airline to induct the A350 in its fleet. The arrival of the plane marks the first delivery for Air India from its 250-aircraft order with European aerospace major Airbus. It is also the first Air India aircraft to sport the carrier’s new livery.

Air India’s Airbus order consists of a total of 40 A350 planes–20 each of A350-900 and A350-1000 variants–and 210 planes of the A320neo family of narrowbody aircraft. The Tata group airline expects to take delivery of another five A350-900s by March.

Air India A350 900 The aircraft, which arrived in Delhi on Saturday afternoon from the Airbus facility in France’s Toulouse, will enter commercial service in January 2024. (X/ airindia)

The aircraft, which arrived in Delhi on Saturday afternoon from the Airbus facility in France’s Toulouse, will enter commercial service in January 2024, initially operating on domestic routes for crew familiarisation, which will be followed by longer-haul flights to destinations across continents. The airline plans to announce the plane’s schedule of commercial operations in the coming weeks.

“Air India leads the way in catalysing the renaissance of Indian aviation, inducting the first new widebody fleet type in India in more than a decade, and thus, becoming the first Indian airline to fly the A350. Air India was also the first Indian airline to have inducted the Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet type in 2012,” Air India said in a release.

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The aircraft is the only Airbus widebody plane in India’s existing operational aircraft fleet, as all other widebody jets being operated by Indian carriers are from the stable of American manufacturer Boeing. The now-defunct Jet Airways did have a few Airbus A330 widebody aircraft in its fleet. Boeing has been the dominant player in widebody segment in India, while Airbus has had the bigger footprint in narrowbody jets.

Wide-body planes are usually deployed to operate long-haul and ultra-long-haul flights, while narrow-body aircraft are predominantly used for domestic flights, and can also be employed to operate short- and medium-haul international hops.

Festive offer

According to Airbus, in a standard three-class configuration, the A350-900 can carry 300-350 passengers and has a flight range of over 15,000 km. The A350-1000 can carry 350-410 passengers, and can cover a little over 16,000 km non-stop.

Air India A350 900 According to Airbus, in a standard three-class configuration, the A350-900 can carry 300-350 passengers and has a flight range of over 15,000 km. (X/ airindia)

Bulk of Air India’s existing fleet of aircraft comprises older planes that were inducted when it was under government control. Many of the carrier’s aircraft were in a rundown state due to the financial stress it was under before the Tata group took over in January 2022. The airline’s massive order of 470 planes–250 with Airbus and 220 with Boeing–is key not just to the Air India group’s capacity and network expansion plans, but also to its ambition of offering a world-class product to flyers.

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“Air India’s A350-900 aircraft come in a three-class cabin configuration with 316 seats designed by Collins Aerospace: 28 private Business Class suites with full-flat beds, 24 Premium Economy seats with extra legroom and multiple other differentiating features, and 264 spacious Economy Class seats. All seats on the aircraft feature the latest-generation Panasonic eX3 in-flight entertainment system and HD screens to provide superior flying experience,” Air India said.

Ever since Air India returned to the Tata Group a little over a year ago, the new owners have been focussed on sprucing up the product offering, while also planning an extensive expansion for the airline. A five-year roadmap–Vihaan.AI–was prepared with the objective of substantially growing the airline’s network and fleet in a bid to put it on a “path to sustained growth, profitability, and market leadership”. Air India is also in the process of refurbishing its existing planes and trying to get a few grounded ones back in the air.

“As a symbol of the new age of flying, the A350 promises a world-class, long-haul travel experience on our non-stop routes, providing an unparalleled level of comfort. Its excellent flight economics and state-of-the-art technology underscore our dedication to commercially successful operations and to achieving our sustainability goals,” said Campbell Wilson, chief executive officer & managing director, Air India.

Sukalp Sharma is a Senior Assistant Editor with The Indian Express and writes on a host of subjects and sectors, notably energy and aviation. He has over 13 years of experience in journalism with a body of work spanning areas like politics, development, equity markets, corporates, trade, and economic policy. Before joining The Indian Express, Sukalp had long and enriching stints at financial newswire Informist and the Express Group’s pink paper The Financial Express. He considers himself an above-average photographer, which goes well with his love for travel. ... Read More

First published on: 23-12-2023 at 17:44 IST
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