Air India is developing in-house engineering capabilities and interviewing its cabin crew as it prepares to receive the Airbus A350 aircraft starting this November.

The A350 aircraft are part of 470 planes ordered by Air India in February. Air India’s order comprises six A350-900 and 34 A350-1000 variants that operate on long-haul routes.

Six A350-900s that were originally built for Russian airline Aeroflot will be delivered first. The aircraft will have a new cabin product and will burn 25 per cent less fuel. Air India has initiated the process to obtain the necessary regulatory approvals for the induction and has begun training engineers and pilots for operation.

Airbus did not reply to an e-mail query. businessline has reached out to Air India for comments, and the story will be updated on its receipt.

A batch of engineers from Tata group-owned airlines AirAsia India and Vistara underwent training on A350 aircraft at an Airbus facility last month. Currently, AI Engineering Services Ltd (a former subsidiary of Air India) carries out maintenance on all Air India and Air India Express aircraft.

Routine maintenance of AirAsia India and Vistara planes is done in-house, while the aircraft are sent to third-party maintenance and repair organisations (MRO) for heavy checks.

A source explained that training engineers from AirAsia and Vistara for A350 planes is a strategic move. Engineers of these two Tata group airlines are already qualified to service Airbus A320, Boeing 737, and Boeing 787 aircraft and would now be able to service the new A350 planes as well.

“No Indian MRO has the ability and approval to carry out maintenance for A350 planes currently. No one will invest in that until there is a long-term business commitment from an airline,” he added.

An other interesting aspect of the airline’s preparation is the selection of the cabin crew who will work on this aircraft. Flight attendants will be selected after a written assessment and interviews held by seniors in the in-flight services department.

“The selection process is on,” a crew member said. This merit-based selection process is unique for the airline, as up until now crew members did not appear for a written assessment or interview while progressing from one fleet type to another. Other requirements, such as a proven track record without disciplinary issues, remain in force.

Pilot training, too, is underway, with the airline deputing experienced Airbus A320 commanders for a “cross-crew qualification” course. Four pilots have already done simulator training in Singapore.

To begin with, A320 aircraft pilots are being chosen, while Boeing aircraft pilots will be trained on A350 aircraft later. The cockpits of Airbus aircraft have common features, and thus those who fly the aircraft have shorter-duration training compared with those flying other planes.

A source said four trainers from Airbus are expected to come along with new aircraft to supervise newly-trained Air India pilots. Air India pilots will then take up the training roles after completing mandatory courses and checks.

Globally, Airbus A350 entered into service with Qatar Airways in 2015 
There are around 550 A350 planes in service globally and over 500 more on order 
Singapore Airlines is its largest operator with 62 A350 aircraft 
The DGCA will certify A350 aircraft for operations in India 
Air India will have to demonstrate its operational capabilities to the DGCA in order to operate the A350 aircraft