Millennium Post

ICPA seeks long-term fleet expansion plan for Air India

Mumbai: Air India's narrow-body pilots union ICPA has blamed capacity deficiency vis-a-vis competitors for its plunging domestic market share while seeking a long-term plan for aircraft fleet expansion at the carrier. In a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu last week, the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) also lamented that while other domestic carriers have placed huge aircraft order with both Airbus and Boeing, Air India will be inducting only five planes in its fleet going forward.

"We have remained quite stagnant in the domestic market. We still continue to operate 350-odd daily flights on domestic routes from about 300 flights 10 years ago...The load factor across all Air India flights is very high, but market share is slipping for want of additional capacity," the ICPA said.

On the contrary, budget carrier IndiGo has scaled up its operations to over 1,000 flights per day in over 10-year period, it pointed out in the December 10 letter to Prabhu.

According to ICPA, Air India's market share dropped from 19.8 per cent in January 2014 to just 11.8 per cent in September this year, which incidentally is the lowest market share ever for the carrier.

The Gurugram-based no-frills IndiGo currently commands over 40 per cent of the total domestic passenger traffic.

Propelled initially by the low jet fuel prices and later excess capacity on local routes, the domestic passengers' travel demand has been witnessing double digit growth since August 2014.

"All the private carriers together have hundreds of aircraft on order to keep themselves at par with the demand of ever growing domestic aviation market with a futuristic view of at least the next decade," the ICPA said.

However, "we (Air India) have just five more A-320 aircraft to join us out of the 27 ordered on lease about three years back," the association said in the letter. The carrier had plans to induct on lease latest Airbus A320 Neo planes in 2016, but it was cut to 29 planes following the government's decision to partially privatise it.

Of the 29 planes, 14 were to replace the nearly three decade-old classic A320s.

Notably, Air India has not bought a single aircraft since 2006 when it placed order for purchasing 111 aircraft 68 from Boeing and 43 from Airbus.

While the Airbus completed the order in 2010, Boeing delivered the last aircraft from the 2006 order in March this year.

At the same time, all major domestic private carriers are set to induct a large number of aircraft in their fleet over the next 5 to 10 years. According to a CAPA report, India's order has already crossed 1,000 planes and over 100 planes are to be delivered to them each year over the five years.

The ICPA in the letter said while the airline may have expanded its operations on the wide-body aircraft with new flights to the US and Europe, there remain some untapped markets particularly in Africa, which should be explored.

"For our survival and to make sure that our market share does not decline any further, increasing our fleet of modern and fuel efficient of both narrow and wide body (aircraft) is of paramount importance," it said.

The aircraft order should be with a long-term view of at least 5 to 10 years and not in piecemeal manner, it added.

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