Air India gets more Dreamliner but who’s going to fly them

By Aditya Anand/ Mumbai Mirror

Air India is scheduled to take delivery of two Boeings this year even as the carrier does not have the required number of pilots to keep these in the air.

Even as Air India is seeking a Rs 1,500 crore loan from financial institutions to fund the purchase of two more Boeing 787 Dreamliners, it has emerged that the national carrier may not be able to ensure that the aircraft remains airborne, especially given the dearth in the number of pilots in their service. The airline is short of about 30 pilots trained to fly the Dreamliner.

“Even though there was a recruitment freeze till some time ago, there are certain other flaws in the policy followed by the carrier which prevents a pilot’s career progression and thereby affects the recruitment process as a whole,” said a pilot in the carrier’s employ.

Each Boeing aircraft requires about eight to nine sets of pilots per aircraft to ensure smooth everyday operation. But with a fleet strength of 21 (including the two to be delivered) Boeings, Air India is able to manage an average flying time of only 11 to 12 hours per day as against the Boeing recommended average of 14 to 16 hours.

A pilot set comprises of a commander and a first officer or co-pilot. The national carrier currently employs close to 140 trained commanders and around 150 trained first officers.

For now, however, Air India is focussed on the immediate problem, which is to secure a loan for part funding the induction of the two aircrafts scheduled for delivery in November and December.

“We have invited offers from banks and other financial institutions to arrange bridge loan (a temporary loan used to meet payment commitments until long-term financing can be arranged) for a period of up to 15 months,” said Chairman-and-Managing Director Ashwani Lohani.

According to the bid document, Air India is offering the aircraft as security and will repay the loan after it concludes a sale and lease-back arrangement. It also says that there will be no government guarantee for the loan.  The document further states that the company had tied up for sale and lease-back for 21 Boeing 787-800 planes which have been delivered to the airline so far. Under a lease-back arrangement, the seller of an asset leases it back from the purchaser for a long-term and continues to use it without actually owning it.

In January 2006, the carrier had placed orders for 68 Boeing aircrafts, including 27 Dreamliners and 41 Boeing-777s and B-737-800s. However, it had not taken delivery of these planes since June, 2015.

“Besides these, four more aircraft will be delivered in 2017,” said Dinesh Keskar, Boeing Senior Vice President Sales (Asia Pacific and India).

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