Mumbai, Jan 25 Air India has expanded its reach, added new flights and initiated customer centric initiatives as it completes two years under the new ownership. 

However, flight delays and worn out seats on legacy Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft continue to be a sore point.

The Tatas took over Air India on January 27, 2022. While in the first year it restored grounded aircraft and hired new talent, the airline management pressed the accelerator in the second year. A mega 470-aircraft order was signed in June, and a new brand identity unveiled in August. A new distribution agreement with Sabre has enabled the airline to win back corporate clients in the US. Investments are being made in IT systems and lounges. Engineering and training capabilities are being enhanced.

“The first year was about making structural changes and fixing the basics. Now, we are building upon the foundation laid in the last two years,” an airline executive said.

Air India’s domestic market share increased from 8.7 per cent in CY2022 to 9.7 per cent in CY2023. On the international front, its market share jumped from 11.1 per cent in January-September 2019 to 12.6 per cent in the same period last year.

According to aviation analytics firm Cirium, Air India is scheduled to operate 13,272 flights in January, which is 11.6 per cent higher compared to that last January. New routes have been added and capacity increased on key metro routes. Air India operates five daily flights on the Dubai-Delhi route (the third busiest route for the airline based on number of seats), and also picks up passengers for Nepal and Bangladesh, a source said.

“New services have been added to London Gatwick, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Singapore is the big destination of growth with a nearly 25 per cent increase in flights. All of this is central to Air India’s stated strategy of expanding its footprint and building connectivity through Delhi,” said John Grant, chief analyst of OAG, a leading data platform.

Changes are being made in products and services, too. New amenity kits, cutlery and glassware will be introduced on the Airbus A350 aircraft when it starts flying on international routes. The airline has appointed chefs for development of menus. Sonal Holland, Master of Wine, has been roped in as a consultant for wine selection and service.

Boeing India president Salil Gupte said the second anniversary milestone marks a “continued journey of strategic collaboration, operational excellence and positive advancements.” He added, Boeing looks forward to sustained success in collaborative partnerships with Air India.

While the airline is putting its best foot forward, it grapples with challenges and unresolved issues. 

Flight delays, especially on long-haul routes, has been an area of concern for the management. According to data from the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation, the airline was ranked third in on-time performance twice, and fourth for three months in 2023. In six months, it was placed fifth, and in November it was sixth behind Alliance Air.

Another challenge is broken seats and non-functional in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems in Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft. Air India has been unable to fully fix the issue as manufacturers have stopped producing the kind of seats and IFE systems installed in its aircraft.

With the help of Tata Technologies, the airline has got small parts, panels and assemblies manufactured. Though the number of unserviceable seats on-board aircraft has come down, complaints persist.

Cabin refurbishment of the Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft is expected to start from the second half of the year, depending on regulatory approvals and availability of slots at maintenance repair units.

“Given the state of the airline at the time of acquisition - Air India under TATAs has made remarkable progress in fleet, people, systems and the structure. There is a visible sense of purpose and determination. However, a lot remains to be done, especially related to product and service standardisation, which will be visible in FY 25. There is the critical task of integrating Vistara. There is a lot on the table, but overall well done,” said Kapil Kaul, CEO of aviation consultancy CAPA India.

Air India CEO Campbell Wilson, in a letter to staff on Thursday, said: “Though we still have a long way to go to upgrade the legacy fleet, improve our consistency, close remaining gaps and strengthen fragile processes, the future is now more visible, more tangible and, I hope, more inspiring. Despite — and no doubt somewhat because of — the good progress we’ve made in two short years since privatisation, expectations are high, so we need to keep rising to meet them.”