India’s Flag Carrier Air India has added several high-end seats on its flights to London Heathrow from Delhi and Mumbai. A recent equipment change from the Boeing 787-8 to the Boeing 777-300ER has added a number of extra Business Class seats as well as a First Class cabin on these flights. The Boeing 777 features four seats in First Class, thirty five seats in Business Class and 303 Economy seats, thus improving the route’s capacity by over 80 seats.
Air India’s Director of Finance Vinod Hejmadi said “most of the 340 seats on the London flights are being filled, compared with fewer than 260 before. The airline already operates a 777 for the Mumbai-London route.”
The switch to the Boeing 777 frees up the 787s earlier used on these routes for other long haul flights and possible additions to the Air India network. The now free Dreamliners are already being used on the Delhi to Washington DC flight and the new Mumbai to Nairobi flight.
The struggling airline is currently saddled with a debt of about Rs. 30,600crore after the Indian Government took over debts of Rs. 29,400 crore of the estimated Rs. 60,000 crore last year. This move was made by the Government in order to make the flag carrier more lucrative for prospective buyers in 2020. After quite a few failed attempts at the disinvestment of the airline, the Indian Government wants to finally make one last attempt to save the flag carrier. Air India has received interest from Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways and Indian LCC IndiGo. No apparent interest has been shown by the TATA Group as of yet, Air India’s founders and initial owners back in 1930. Due to the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) rules of India, foreign carriers are only allowed to buy a stake of a maximum of 49% in an Indian Airline which is proving to be a major hurdle for Etihad Airways.
In November of 2019 TATA Group Chairman, N Chandrasekaran told the Times of India in an interview: “I will ask the team to evaluate it … Ideally; it should be a Vistara decision, not a Tata Sons decision. I am not going to run a third airline unless we merge. There are issues. I will never say yes or no. I don’t know.”
The Government wants to sell 100% shares in Air India and about 50% shares of low cost subsidiary Air India Express. One can only hope that Air India is successful in its planned disinvestment and can once again attain its former glory.