Air India Express (AI Express) will receive 20 Airbus A320 aircraft from Air India as a part of fleet optimisation strategy between the Tata-group owned airlines.

The aircraft will be transferred in phases over the next few months and will enable AI Express to ramp up up its operations on domestic and short-haul international routes. Along with the planes, Air India will also transfer cabin crew and pilots to AI Express for its expanded operations. While this is expected to cause unease among the ranks, an official said salary and benefits of crew will be protected.

Air India has two variants of A320 aircraft — one with single-class all-economy seats and the other with economy and business class configuration. While 40 such A320 aircraft in dual-class will be reconfigured into three-class aircraft with premium economy cabin, twenty single-class A320s are expected to move to AI Express.

“It will be sub optimal for Air India to have aircraft with both all-economy and three-class cabins in its fleet and it will create brand confusion,” said an executive familiar with the plan. AI Express’ focus is largely on metro to non-metro and non-metro to non-metro routes within India and also on West Asian routes and the aircraft with all economy seats will help in competing with IndiGo in these markets. Air India declined to comment.

AI Express has expanded rapidly since last October with the induction of 24 Boeing 737 Max planes and unveiling of a new unified brand identity. This is a part of ongoing integration between AirAsia India (company renamed as AIX Connect) and AI Express. Like Vistara-Air India, the full merger of the two airlines is expected to complete before 2024-end.

Harmonised manuals

Directorate General of Civil Aviation is expected to approve the harmonised operating manuals this week. The airlines have separate manuals and these need to be harmonised as a part of the merger process.

Pilots and crew also need to undergo training to familiarise themselves with the new procedures. Thus the airlines will have to arrange for e-learning, online instructor led classroom training and issue detailed circulars to the staff.

Alongside the regulatory process, expansion plans too are being put in place. The number of daily departures has increased from 350 to 380 in a matter of three months. The airline is set to fly to Dhaka and Kathmandu and announce a few new domestic destinations too. By next March, AI Express is expected to have a fleet of about 120 aircraft comprising Airbus and Boeing planes. Currently over 75 planes operate under AI Express brand and are registered with AI Express and AIX Connect. "We had challenges due to cabin crew issues in May. However the overall outlook for the year is positive and we are targeting 40 per cent capacity growth," the executive added.