20220619 AIR INDIA
India’s flagship carrier, Air India is now owned by Tata Sons Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Air India Ltd. will now be able to offer the shortest flights between India and the US. Five B777-200LR jets will join the fleet between December and March, connecting Indian metro cities to the US.

The airline, in addition to these, is set to induct 30 leased aircraft from Airbus SE and Boeing Co. into its fleet starting December, according to a Bloomberg report, as its new owner Tata Sons Pvt. prepares to rebuild the former state-run airline.

The carrier will add 21 A320 neo jets in the second half of 2023 and four A321 neo aircraft in the first quarter of calendar 2023, according to a statement released Monday. The planes will be used on domestic routes as well as short-haul international legs, Air India said.

India - US

With the longer-range Boeing jets, Air India will increase flights from Mumbai to San Francisco and New York, and operate three weekly services between Bengaluru and San Francisco, the airline said.

The fact that Air India is one of the few carriers still flying over Russian airspace is why it will now be able to offer the shortest flights between the two nations - an advantage highlighted by at least one aviation lawyer, Bloomberg reported.

Tata Sons, India's oldest and largest conglomerate, became the new owner of the country's debt-laden national carrier Air India in October, 2021. Talace Pvt Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tata Sons, won the bid for acquiring Air India, marking the end of the process to privatise the national carrier with the government approving its disinvestment. The government sold 100 per cent of its stake in the state-owned national airline, including Air India's 100 per cent shareholding in AI Express Ltd and 50 per cent in Air India SATS Airport Services Private Ltd.

An expensive national asset

An initial sale attempt by the government in 2018 failed to attract any bidders. A successful sale of the loss-making national flag carrier was a major government victory since it cost taxpayers an average of nearly $3 million (more than Dh11 million) a day for the past decade, according to a Reuters report published at the time of the sale.

The fleet expansion signals a resurgence for Air India under new Chief Executive Officer Campbell Wilson after the government handed over the money-losing carrier to Tata following years of taxpayer bailouts. Tata has earmarked 150 billion rupees ($1.9 billion) for investment into Air India and Chairman N. Chandrasekaran has indicated he expects visible progress in one to two years, according to an Economic Times report.

The addition of leased aircraft will increase Air India's fleet by over 25%, the company said. The carrier is currently operating 33 widebodies and 54 narrowbodies. Some 16 narrowbodies and 10 widebodies that are grounded will return to service by early 2023, it added. At the time of the sale, the group took on a fleet of 121 Air India aircraft and 25 planes from its subsidiary Air India Express, which operates low-cost flights to more than 30 destinations in India, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Separately, Air India is also planning to vacate any government-owned buildings from this month. Air India, Air India Express Ltd. and AirAsia India offices will move to a new campus by March.

What else does the Tata group own?

The Tata group is a sprawling collection of nearly 100 companies that includes the country's largest automaker, the largest private steel company, and a leading outsourcing firm. The companies employ more than 350,000 people around the world. Tata bought Jaguar and Land Rover for $2.3 billion from Ford in June 2008.

It also runs a budget airline, Air Asia India, in cooperation with Malaysian carrier Air Asia Berhad, and full-service carrier Vistara with Singapore Airlines.