Tuesday 11 September 2012

Air India's first Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" touched down on the airline's home soil over the weekend.

The airline is the fifth in the world to add the Dreamliner to its fleet, having taking delivery of the jet last week in South Carolina before flying it on a 15-hour flight Saturday (Sept. 8) to New Delhi that included a 90-minute refueling stop in Frankfurt.

"It was a very smooth flight," Capt. A S Soman tells the Press Trust of India (PTI).

The delivery puts Air India in an exclusive "Dreamliner club," with All Nippon, Japan Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines and LAN the only other carriers to take possession of a 787 so far. United showed off its Dreamliner at a special "unveiling" earlier this month near Seattle, but the airline is not expected to get the proverbial keys to its 787 until later this month.

Air India's Dreamliner -- painted in the airline's bold red- and orange-hued livery -- arrived at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport amid much fanfare, including a traditional water-cannon salute to mark the jet's long-awaited arrival, according to the The Hindu.

But the delivery also caped a messy handover process between Air India and the U.S. jetmaker, which was nearly four years behind schedule in bringing the jet to market.

The Business Standard of India notes three Air India-emblazoned Boeing 787s had been ready for delivery and sitting at Boeing's facility near Charleston, S.C., since May. "The delivery was held up for months while Air India and Boeing worked out a compensation settlement," the Business Standard writes.

The process was further bogged down when Indian politicians become involved, refusing to allow the state-owned carrier to move forward with the delivery of any of the 27 787s it had ordered without the government's backing. And, once a deal had been reached, the Indian government was slow to sign the deal that would allow the handover to take place.

Adding to the ugliness, Reuters notes "the Dreamliner was also at the heart of a recent Air India pilots' strike."

Reuters says the strike, which lasted nearly two months, involved about 500 Air India pilots who "demanded that their colleagues from the former Indian Airlines, the domestic state-run carrier that merged with Air India, not be trained to fly Dreamliners because they worried it could hurt their own career prospects." The strike ended in July.

With the strike over and the impasse with Boeing solved, Air India now says it expects to have five Dreamliners in its fleet by March, the PTI reports.

And the carrier -- which is hemorrhaging money at a rate of about $1.5 billion a year, according to the Financial Times -- says the 787 is key to Air India's turnaround plan.

The Wall Street Journal writes "the Dreamliner order is part of Air India's broader strategy to turn profitable. The idea is that Dreamliners jets will replace the carrier's older fuel-guzzling planes." Additionally, the Journal adds the jet is "crucial" to Air India's flagging prospects since it will allow "the loss-making carrier to start flights to new foreign destinations and try to regain market share ceded to rivals such as Emirates Airline, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines."

"The 787 aircraft will allow Air India to open new routes in a dynamic marketplace and provide the best in-flight experience for our passengers," Air India Chairman and Managing Director Rohit Nandan is quoted as saying by the New York Daily News.

"Initially," writes India's Economic Times, "the aircraft would be flown on routes such as Delhi-Dubai on the international sector and Delhi-Kolkata, Delhi-Bangalore and Delhi-Amritsar on the domestic segment till October-November for the trained crew to practice more landings and take-offs. So far, 65 pilots have been trained to fly this plane. The next two 787s would fly out of Boeing facility in Charleston, South Carolina in the U.S. in the next two weeks."

The Business Standard says Air India also will eventually use its 787s "to expand its limited European connectivity which is only to London, Paris and Frankfurt, a fact which helped European carriers and even Jet Airways (with a base of Brussels) to gain at (Air India's) expense."

The Business Standard notes Air India is currently flying its European routes with Boeing 777s, which have high capacities that may not be ideally suited to profitably serve those markets.

As for its 787s, Air India has outfitted them with 18 business-class seats and 238 in coach.

"Air India is going to really change its image by the way it gives services to its passengers with this beautiful Dreamliner in their suite," Dinesh Keskar, President of Boeing's operations across the Asia-Pacific region, predicts to CNBC TV-18 of India.

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