Will Air India steal the record of largest aircraft order in history?

Air India a320 aircraft
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Air India has recently entered negotiations with the world’s largest commercial aircraft manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, regarding a record order for 500 jets.

The deal, if officially confirmed by the airline, will become the largest order by aircraft number to be placed in commercial aviation history.

Placing large orders during global airline industry recovery

Delhi-based Air India is reportedly in talks with the manufacturers to buy up to 500 new planes, including 400 narrow-body jets and 100 wide-body aircraft.

Looking at single-aisle planes, the airline will potentially order a mix of Airbus A320neos, A321neos, and Boeing 737 MAXs. Meanwhile, in the twin-aisle category, the Indian air carrier will likely order Boeing 787s and 777Xs for passenger service as well as some Boeing 777s and Airbus A350 freighters for air cargo operations, industry sources told Reuters.

The order is being placed at a time when the industry is recovering across the globe. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airlines are expected to finally return to profitability with a net profit of around $4.7 billion in 2023.

Speaking at the Airline Economics conference which took place on January 16, 2023, Steven Udvar-Hazy, the chief executive chairman of Air Lease Corporation, one of the industry’s largest aircraft lessors, noted that Air India’s potential order is an example of upcoming trends in the airline business.

“As a result of this recovery, there is now more momentum for large orders from airlines who have sort of sat back and watched the movie, and now they’re seeing there’s going to be a positive trend,” Steven Udvar-Hazy said during the conference, as reported by Reuters.

Since Tata Sons, an India-based conglomerate, took control of Air India in January 2022, it has been on a mission to turn Air India into a world-class airline. If the final details of the newest order are completed in the coming months, the air carrier’s fleet, which currently stands at 113 planes with an average age of 10.2 years, will see a significant capacity boost. This will improve both Air India’s efficiency and its position in the market.

While eyeing hundreds of new planes, Air India is also focused on improving its existing fleet. In December 2022, the air carrier said it is “committed to attaining the highest standards of product and service befitting of a world-class airline” and would be investing $400 million to refurbish its existing wide-body planes. Those include 27 Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners and 18 Boeing 777s, according to the Planespotters.com registry.

Largest aircraft order of all time

Air India’s potential order could become one of largest aircraft deals not only in India, but in commercial aviation history.

So far, the largest order was made by the major US-based carrier American Airlines. In June 2011, the airline announced the purchase of 460 all narrow-body jets, which included 260 Airbus A320s and 200 Boeing 737 MAXs. At the time the deal was valued at $38 billion at list prices.

The second was ordered at the same time by US private equity fund Indigo Partners, which ordered a total of 430 Airbus A320neo family planes in 2017. At the time, the deal consisted of 274 A320neos and 156 A321neos, which were assigned to four low-cost airlines: Volaris, Wizz Air, JetSmart, and Frontier Airlines.

However, no other Indian airline has ever ordered as many aircraft as Air India is expected to.

Other players in the Indian aviation market have also never beaten the record order placed by IndiGo in 2019, which saw the low-cost carrier sign a firm order of 300 A320neo family planes. The order, valued at around $33 billion, consisted of A320neos, A321neos, and A321XLR jets and marked one of Airbus’ largest aircraft orders ever with a single air carrier.

Another Indian low-cost airline, the newcomer Akasa Air, has 72 Boeing 737 MAX 200 aircraft on order, which was placed in November 2021. At the time, Akasa Air’s order was valued at almost $9 billion at list prices and became India’s second-largest aircraft order of all time.

Meanwhile, Delhi-based Jet Airways is supposed to buy 50 A220 narrow-body jets. The deal with Airbus was first reported by Indian media in July 2022 but has not been finalized yet. It remains unclear whether the aircraft will be purchased outright by Jet Airways or leased, or a mixture of both.

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