Air India planes are parked at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi.
Air India planes are parked at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. Image Credit: AP

Mumbai: Air India Ltd. is polling pilots on whether they want to be trained to fly Airbus SE A350 jets, indicating that it intends to operate the model as it looks to renew its wide-body fleet under new owner Tata Group.

The airline may introduce the A350 by the first quarter of 2023, according to a letter sent to senior cockpit crew and seen by Bloomberg News. Pilots must respond to the training offer by June 20, with those who accept ineligible for upgrade to another aircraft type for two years, the letter said.

The airline is looking to order around 20 A350s, people familiar with the matter said. One option would be to take on jets initially destined for Russian carrier Aeroflot which Airbus can no longer deliver due to sanctions, as well as Qatar Airways planes that the airline isn't taking due to a dispute with the manufacturer over paint quality.

An Airbus spokesman said the company is always talking to existing and potential customers, while declining to comment further. Tata couldn't immediately be reached for comment outside of usual office hours.

Air India could operate the A350 on flights to the US, which it currently serves with Boeing Co. 777s and 787-8s, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named. The A350 order would be worth more than $6 billion based on list prices, before traditional industry discounts.

Boeing jets could also factor into an order. Bloomberg reported in February that Air India was in talks with Airbus and Boeing about a raft of new planes including A350-900s and 787-9s after Tata won control of the former state-owned company and embarked on a fleet-modernization plan.

Once known for its premium services and advertisements featuring Bollywood stars, the airline still has lucrative landing slots at most major airports, but faces competition from foreign airlines with non-stop services to India and carriers that fly via hubs in the Middle East.

Air India currently has 153 planes, according to its website. They include 49 wide-bodies manufactured by Boeing and 79 Airbus narrow-bodies, along with 25 Boeing 737s at low-cost arm Air India Express.