Air India suffers Rs 20 cr a week loss due to idle Dreamliners

The Dreamliners were considered as the backbone for Air India's revival but the grounding of the aircraft only compounded the woes for the national carrier.

Sindhu Bhattacharya March 28, 2013 20:51:27 IST
 Air India suffers Rs 20 cr a week loss due to idle Dreamliners

The losses Air India is incurring due to grounding of its Boeing 787 'Dreamliner' fleet have risen to as much as Rs 20 crore a week. Since 17 January, when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States asked airlines around the world to grounded B787s due to battery problems, Air India has had to implement a major restructuring of its fleet utilisation. Air India is the only customer in India to have ordered and received 6 B787s till now. It was scheduled to receive two more by March this year besides another six till March 2014. So in all, as per the original delivery plan, the airline would have had 14 Dreamliners in its fleet by March next year.

In the initial weeks, we were told that schedule restructuring and use of other, less fuel efficient aircraft was costing Air India Rs 30-40 lakh a day incrementally. But speaking to reporters today, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said, "Air India's losses from Dreamliner grounding are Rs 20 crore a week....thats what I remember being told". This means the daily loss has climbed to over Rs 2.86 crore a day!

 Air India suffers Rs 20 cr a week loss due to idle Dreamliners

Grounded giant. AFP

Singh said the airline will seek compensation from Boeing for the grounding but did not specify how much. He agreed that it could be adjusted against future orders but no decision has yet been taken on how much compensation will be sought and in which form.

Separately, aviation regulator DGCA said on Tuesday that there was no confirmation on whether the Dreamliners would be certified fit for flying in April. Boeing has begun some test flights at its end but no dates have been announced by when it will certify all the 50 Dreamliners sitting on the ground around the world would be allowed to fly.

DGCA Arun Mishra said, "First, Boeing has to get the planes certified by the FAA. Then its officials need to retro fit batteries in each aircraft with Air India and finally seek the regulator's approval before commercial flights may begin for Air India."

When the Dreamliners were grounded in January, the Mumbai-Singapore and Chennai-Singapore flights of Air India were combined and operated on an Airbus 330. "This means the Mumbai passengers to Singapore have to stop in Chennai, which many do not like. But we were left with no other option," an airline official had said at that time. Also, Air India had to cancel its five-times-a-week service between Delhi and Narita airport in Tokyo because of Dreamliners' grounding. But it has continued to serve the two overseas destinations of B787s by deploying B 777LRs on Paris and Frankfurt legs.

Sources within Air India have earlier acknowledged that Dreamliners have given the airline myriad problems in the last few months. These include an instance when the doors of a Dreamliner cargo flight would not close, once the air conditioning system did not function inside the aircraft and there have been problems of fuel leakage too. But all these instances were seen as "routine" with airline officials saying such problems occur with many new aircraft but are corrected by the manufacturer as time goes by.

"Fuel leakage happened on Dreamliners but this is not uncommon. When the aircraft is being refuelled, sometimes the fuel overflows. It should not happen but does sometimes, there is nothing to worry about. But the battery problems which we heard in the case of ANA have not been seen in the case of aircraft we operate," these sources had said earlier.

A prolonged grounding of the Dreamliners-which were seen as the backbone of Air India's turnaround plan-has only meant bad news for the loss making national carrier. Singh reiterated today that Air Inidia will report Ebidta positive (operational profits) for the first time since the erstwhile Air India and Indian Airlines were merged into the present airline in 2008. "This is despite the grounding of the Dreamliners," he said.

Dreamliners are the backbone of Air India's revival. Though flights to Paris and Frankfurt are not affected as yet, Air India's plan to become the only Indian airline to launch direct flights to Australia this summer is already in shambles.

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