National carrier Air India on Friday said it will not place any order for new aircraft till there is clarity on its future course, including possible privatisation. The airline, however, said all the existing orders will be respected and new aircraft are being added to the fleet.
“Whatever has been ordered in the past, that is there,” Air India Chairman and Managing Director Ashwani Lohani told reporters in Guwahati, adding that no fresh orders will be placed right now. Ordering of new planes is a long-term process by Air India and it usually takes 6-9 months, he added.
Asked how long the company would go without placing fresh orders, Lohani said: “We do not know. We have to keep on running the airline. There is no decision on that.” He, however, denied reports that some old orders have been cancelled. “No, not right. Whatever the orders, these were ordered before. These will be coming,” Lohani said.
Giving details of Air India’s order list, the CMD said: “We are adding 10 ATRs. We have placed order for 29 Airbus on lease. They have started coming now. But we are also grounding old aircraft. We have lot of old aircraft. So the net addition will be only about 15 Airbus.”
Besides, the airline is procuring wide-bodied Boeing aircraft to its fleet to strengthen the international route. “Also, seven more wide-bodies (Boeing) will be added in next 6-7 months. We are starting lots of international flights,” Lohani said.
The state-owned carrier has a total of 103 planes, of which 42 are wide-bodied Boeing 777s, 747s and 787s, while 61 are narrow-bodied Airbus 319s, 320s and 321s. Its low-cost subsidiary Air India Express has 23 Boeing 737s at present.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has proposed privatisation of Air India and the Civil Aviation Ministry is looking at all options to make the airline strong and viable. A Cabinet note in this regard is likely to be prepared shortly, according to Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha. The development came against the backdrop of NITI Aayog submitting its suggestions on the future course for the airline.
Air India has piled up over Rs 50,000 crore of debt, mainly because of high maintenance costs and lease rent. Since the merger of Indian Airlines with itself, Air India has been in the red. However, it posted an operational profit of Rs 105 crore on account of low fuel prices and increased passenger numbers in 2015-16.