Air India is reportedly on the verge of announcing a record order for 500 jets, including 400 narrow-body and 100 wide-body aircraft, from major manufacturers Airbus and Boeing. The deal, if confirmed, would become the largest order by aircraft number in commercial aviation history. Reports indicate that negotiations are ongoing, with engine suppliers being the current holdup. The airline is placing the order at a time when the global airline industry is recovering, as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts airlines will finally return to profitability, with a net profit of around $4.7 billion in 2023.
According to Steven Udvar-Hazy, the chief executive chairman of Air Lease Corporation, one of the biggest players in the airline leases industry, the order will likely include a mix of Airbus A320neos, A321neos, and Boeing 737 MAXs for the narrow-body jets, and Boeing 787s, 777Xs, potentially some 777 freighters, and Airbus A350s for the wide-body jets.
Air India currently operates Airbus narrow-bodies and Boeing 777 and 787 wide-bodies. However, it is unclear how it makes sense to add Boeing to the narrow-body fleet and Airbus to the wide-body fleet, as they aren’t replacing one with the other, they would be growing both fleets. This would include A350s that American finally got off of its balance sheet and that United Airlines eventually will too, and 777Xs that do not exist yet in commercial production.
In general Airbus narrow-bodies are more attractive to airlines than the 737 MAX, and Boeing lacks a real competitor in the middle-of-the-market segment like the Airbus A321XLR. Boeing wide-bodies, on the other hand, are preferred by many carriers. It would make sense for Air India to stay all-Airbus narrow-body and all-Boeing wide-body, as they are today. Operating a little bit of everything is a much tougher case, as it means more parts for more planes in more places, and more cumbersome pilot and mechanic training.
Indian conglomerate Tata Group recently acquired Air India, and the former CEO of Singapore Airlines low-cost carrier Scoot is leading the airline. The order for 500 planes would be one of the largest aircraft orders in history. Since Udvar-Hazy mentioned lessors in the negotiations, it is likely that Boeing and Airbus will want assurance that they can receive payment for any firm portion of the order. Air India’s balance sheet on its own won’t be able to finance something so substantial. However, since the entire Tata Group is worth hundreds of billions, people expect the order to go through.