Air India will induct its initial A350 and B737 Max aircraft, originally destined for Russian and Chinese carriers. This is part of an extensive 470-aircraft order placed in February by the Tata-owned airline.

Sanctions and a previous Chinese government ban have expedited the timeline, aligning with Air India’s growth plan. The aircraft will now join its fleet between September and December this year.

Russian sanctions

The first batch of Airbus A350 planes coming to Air India were originally intended for Aeroflot. However, these could not be delivered due to sanctions against Russia. Similarly, the 55 Boeing 737 Max aircraft, ordered by Chinese carriers and lessors, have been remarketed due to the local government ban. China lifted the ban on 737 Max planes earlier this year  

Sources said B737 Max deliveries are projected for late October or early November this year, closely followed by the A350s. Air India’s order book spans 34 A350-1000, six A350-900, 20 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, and 10 Boeing 777X widebody aircraft. Furthermore, it includes 140 Airbus A320neo, 70 Airbus A321neo, and 190 Boeing 737MAX narrowbody aircraft.

In an industry marked by manufacturing backlogs and restricted delivery slots, Air India’s swift acquisition of these planes within months of placing the order underscores its strategic advantage.

“We ended the quarter with approximately 220 MAX airplane in inventory. This includes 85 for customers in China and 55 that have now been remarketed as part of the plan we previously discussed. We still expect most MAX inventory airplanes to be delivered by the end of 2024,” said Brian J West, Boeing’s CFO, during a post-results conference call on July 26, acknowledging the ongoing reallocation process.

Air India and Boeing are yet to respond to queries regarding this redirection.

Pilot hiring

Concurrently, Air India has intensified preparations for the forthcoming induction. Its low cost subsidiary, Air India Express (AIX), is actively ramping up pilot recruitment and training.

Earlier this year, the airline announced plans to hire over 4,200 cabin crew and 900 pilots by 2023 to support ambitious growth. AIX has on-boarded around 150 Boeing 737 pilots over the past eighteen months, with a significant recruitment surge in recent months. New recruits are enticed with attractive joining bonuses and flexible contracts.

“The 150-odd pilots have been hired from SpiceJet and at least 18 from Akasa along with Igrua Aviation Academy directly. We also have pilots from deputation from Vistara,” revealed an insider, underscoring the diverse recruitment sources.

To ensure seamless readiness, pilots are undergoing rigorous training, including an intensive three-day simulator program tailored for Boeing 737 Max operations. At present, AIX operates 750 weekly flights with its existing fleet of 26 Boeing 737 NG aircraft.

Air India Express plans to strengthen its domestic network, emphasising connectivity between South India and the North, with a special focus on the North-East region.