Air India selling 5 Boeing 777s to Etihad amidst talk of privatisation

10 Oct 2013


Debt-laden national carrier Air India is selling five of its Boeing 777 class aircraft to Etihad Airways, the Abu Dhabi-based airline, which recently bought a 24-per cent stake in rival Jet Airways in a still-controversial deal.

Boeing 777Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, today said it has already signed a letter of intent with Air India for purchase of five Boeing 777-200 LRs, the longest range passenger aircraft in operation, to support its accelerated route expansion plan.

The letter of intent signed in Mumbai earlier this week, which paves the way for the sale of Air India's premium assets, could been seen as part of a concerted move to make Air India's disintegration irreversible.

Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh has, meanwhile, stuck to his stand that the future of Air India is privatisation, although he rued the fact that the time was not opportune for the UPA government to announce the biggest privatisation deal.

"This government has only about six months left. There is no plan (for privatising Air India) and the issue is not under active consideration at all," he told reporters in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Etihad said it planned to use the 777-200 LRs on the airline's new route between Abu Dhabi and Los Angeles, which starts on 1 June 2014.

Etihad Airways currently flies to New York, Chicago, Washington DC and Toronto in North America, and to São Paulo in Brazil, and has stated its ambition to add new services to both continents.

Etihad expects Air India to deliver the aircraft from the beginning of 2014, after which they will be re-fitted in a three-class cabin configuration similar to the other aircraft the Etihad Airways fleet. 

This will, however, be subject to necessary approvals, Etihad said, adding that the first of these aircraft is expected to enter service in April 2014.

''The Boeing 777-200 LR is a fantastic addition, giving us extra reach immediately and complementing our long term fleet strategy,' James Hogan, president and chief executive of Etihad Airways, said.

''Our continued strong organic growth, boosted by the impact of our equity partners (Jet Airways), has opened up new opportunities for additional destinations,'' he said.

 ''We are looking forward to starting direct services to Los Angeles, as well as increasing our flying to South America.  This is the aircraft to do that.''

The Boeing 777-200 LR, of which less than 60 were manufactured, has a design range of 17,370 km, allowing it to connect almost any city in the world from Etihad Airways' hub at Abu Dhabi International Airport.

The five Air India 777-200LR aircraft, which Etihad Airways is purchasing, are on average, six years old, helping the airline to maintain its overall position of having one of the most modern fleets in the industry.

Etihad Airways' current fleet will reach 87 aircraft by year-end, with 14 new deliveries from aircraft manufacturers during 2013.

The airline has firmed up orders for up to 205 Boeing and Airbus aircraft at the Farnborough Air Show in 2008, as per its fleet expansion plan to meet its organic growth and expansion requirements till 2025.

(Aslo see: SC notice to centre on Swamy's petition against Jet-Etihad deal )

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