Air India About To Make One Of The Largest Aircraft Orders In History

Air India is on the verge of announcing an order for 500 aircraft, which would give them an order book similar in size to United Airlines.

They are expected to order 400 narrowbody planes, and 100 widebodies. According to one of the biggest players in airline leases, Steven Udvar-Hazy, the order will likely be:

a mix of (Airbus) A320neos, A321neos and (Boeing) 737 MAXs, and 100 wide-bodies which will include (Boeing) 787s, 777X, potentially some 777 freighters and (Airbus) A350s.

Air India currently operates Airbus narrowbodies and Boeing 777 and 787 widebodies. It is unclear how it can make any sense to add Boeing to the narrowbody fleet and Airbus to the widebody fleet, and indeed they aren’t replacing one with the other they’d be growing both… including A350s that American finally got off of its balance sheet and that United Airlines eventually will too as well, and 777Xs that do not exist yet in commercial production.

In general Airbus narrowbodies are more attractive to airlines than the 737 MAX, Boeing lacks a real competitor in the middle-of-the-market segment like the Airbus A321XLR (they have no replacement for the Boeing 757) and Boeing widebodies are preferred by many carriers. It would make sense to stay all-Airbus narrowbody and all Boeing widebody, as they are today.

Operating a little bit of everything is a much tougher case. It’s a more complicated operation. It means more parts for more planes in more places. It means more cumbersome pilot training and mechanic training.

After more than 4 years of trying to sell Air India, the government finally succeeded. It’s been acquired by Indian conglomerate Tata Group, and the airline is being led by the former CEO of Singapore Airlines low cost carrier Scoot.

Placing an order for 500 planes at one time, including 100 narrowbody jets, would be one of the largest aircraft orders in history. It’s said that negotiations with engine suppliers are the current holdup. And given Udvar-Hazy’s comments they likely are involving lessors in the negotiations. Boeing and Airbus will want to know that they can get paid for any firm portion of the order, and Air India’s balance sheet on its own won’t be able to finance something so substantial (although the entire Tata Group is worth hundreds of billions).

When the deal is ultimately reported a dollar value may be announced. Bear in mind that such amounts are almost always calculated based on list prices, but no one pays list prices. Large aircraft orders are generally for order-of-magnitude 50% off of list though some may go lower.

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