New fuel-efficient planes will now be deployed on the Gulf routes by Air India, replacing A320 classic aircraft after questions were raised about safety of passengers flying its ageing fleet. The airline currently has 15 Airbus A320 classic, including one on lease, in its fleet of 103 aircraft.
"We have decided to move away the old classic A320 fleet from the Gulf routes and replace it with the new leased A320s current engine option (ceo) from the coming winter," airline sources told PTI. The state-run airline has already announced its plans to replace 19 A320 planes as part of its ageing A320s replacement programme.
It has entered into a deal with a Chinese firm for five sharklets-equipped A320 (ceo) aircraft and all these planes are to be inducted into the fleet for the winter schedule, which commences from the last Sunday of October. Besides, the airline has also tied-up with a leading Kuwaiti aircraft lessor to dry lease another 14 A320Neos (new engine option) planes, which are to be inducted between April 2017 and March 2018.
The airline's narrow-body fleet forum, Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) had in March sought grounding of the 26-year-old fleet of Airbus A320s by the aviation regulator DGCA on the ground that the planes were not "technically" fit to fly.
"The A-320 classic aircraft which are 26 years old (one of the oldest in the world) are being operated with repetitive snags endangering flight safety... DGCA should not permit AI to operate these lethal snag-prone classic aircraft for passenger safety," ICPA had said in a letter to the DGCA, prompting a rebuttal by the airline.
Besides, Air India is also mulling to service some of tier-II/III cities with narrow-body A319s and A320s, which are currently being catered to by smaller aircraft, they said adding, "these cities have a huge traffic potential and could be tapped in a big way with such planes."
"As far as capacity deployment for the winter schedule is concerned we have not added too many new flights. This time, however, we have departed from the conventional schedule and instead opted for a flexible one," the sources said.
Air India has decided to marginally reduce its domestic operations during the winter and has proposed to fly 1,705 flights a week as against 1,718 being operated by it during the on-going summer schedule, which would come to an end on the last Saturday of October.