Air India Express (AIX) is set to witness its fastest growth since inception with the completion of its merger with AirAsia India and the planned addition of around 50 Boeing 737 Max aircraft by December 2024.

This will help the airline grow its existing West Asia network and launch new domestic and international routes, including those to Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and the Maldives.

AIX, which began operations in 2005, is a dominant player on short-haul international routes. But it’s growth has remained stagnant in the last few years with no fresh capacity addition.

This changes next month as the airline starts receiving the first of its new Boeing 737 Max aircraft. A merger process is also underway between AirAsia India and AIX, which will see the airline increase its fleet and network.

At present, AIX has 26 Boeing 737 NG planes, while AirAsia India has 28 Airbus A320 planes. Currently, the two airlines retain separate brands but will switch to the AIX brand later this year. A complete merger as a single corporate entity using a single air operator certificate is planned for March 2024.

“Our initial focus is strengthening existing operations,” said a source from Air India. Currently, AIX and AirAsia India operate around 290 flights daily.

AIX is expecting the addition of 23 aircraft until next March, and most of these will be deployed on international routes. The airline is also planning new domestic flights from Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and cities in Kerala. “We are looking at international flights from Hyderabad too,” he added.

Over the past few months, managers from both airlines have been fine-tuning integration plans. Route restructuring and network planning are also being carried out with Air India. A few changes have already come into effect.

“AIX and AirAsia India have a single website and a common call centre and customer support system. In-flight menus have been harmonised. AIX has also introduced a fast check-in and boarding service. The next stage will see the integration of employees,” an executive said.

AIX is also stepping up its hiring in view of planned capacity additions. “Hiring and training of pilots and crew is going on at a fast pace,” he added. Around 150 pilots have been recruited in the past eighteen months. AIX pilots are also undergoing simulator training that will enable them to operate the Boeing 737 Max aircraft.

Air India placed a massive order for 470 aircraft in February. The order comprises 250 Airbus and 220 Boeing aircraft. Western sanctions on Russia and China’s late approval of Boeing 737 Max aircraft are proving beneficial for Air India. Fifty-five Boeing 737 Max planes to be inducted by Air India were originally built for Chinese carriers. These were remarketed by Boeing after the Chinese airlines refused to take delivery.