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Air India grounds 4 B-777s for lack of funds, looks to lease five of Jet’s

Pranav Mukul
An Air India official told The Indian Express that the airline was in the process of releasing Rs 500 crore to make these planes airworthy.

Debt-laden Air India has approached State Bank of India to lease five Boeing 777 wide-bodied planes owned by Jet Airways, but 19 of its own aircraft, including at least four 777s, have been grounded for months due to lack of funds for maintenance of these planes.

An Air India official told The Indian Express that the airline was in the process of releasing Rs 500 crore to make these planes airworthy. "There are 19 aircraft grounded and these include Boeing 777, Boeing 787, Boeing 747 and Airbus A320s. Some of these aircraft are expected to be back in service by August," the official said.

An official with Air India Engineering Services Ltd, the airline's maintenance, repair and overhaul subsidiary, said the company has been cannibalising some of its new aircraft for parts to keep some of the older aircraft airworthy.

"We do not have funds to acquire parts for these planes, so we are taking them from newly delivered planes," the official said, adding that the parts in question were small ones such as the microphone used by pilots for in-flight announcements.

In its fleet, Air India has 18 Boeing 777 aircraft, 27 Boeing 787s and four Boeing 747s. These planes are mostly used for medium and long-haul international operations. The Boeing 747 is also used for special Haj flights and for international flights of the President and Prime Minister.

The airline also operates 34 narrow-bodied Airbus A320 planes that are mostly used on domestic sectors. According to government data, Air India has inducted six aircraft into its fleet since October 2018.

On April 17, the day Jet Airways announced its temporary closure, Air India Chairman and Managing Director Ashwani Lohani wrote to SBI Chairman Rajnish Kumar that the national carrier was exploring the possibility of leasing five of its wide-bodied Boeing 777 aircraft that have been grounded and operate them to destinations such as London, Dubai and Singapore.

Jet Airways is currently under the management control of the SBI-led consortium of lenders, which has offered to offload between 32.1 per cent and 75 per cent stake to an eligible investor after evaluating all bids. So far, the lenders have received expression of interest (EoI) from four-five parties. Qualified parties would be asked to submit binding bids, and the process is expected to conclude by May 10.

Air India, which has a debt of nearly Rs 48,000 crore in its books, saw an unsuccessful stake sale process last year when the government put 76 per cent of its stake in the airline on the block. Following temporary suspension of Jet Airways, Air India has become the only Indian carrier to operate on long-haul international routes to destinations in Europe and the US.