Air India would slowly phase out the A320s operating in West Asia and deploy it on the regional routes to add capacity.
Air India plans to get back its lost status as the king of domestic skies and challenge the competition from IndiGo.
The state-owned airline plans to raise its capacity on domestic routes by using wide-bodied Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes on high-capacity routes.
Currently, it uses the narrow-body Airbus A320 on such routes.
Simultaneously, the airline will fly the A320s between the Tier-II and Tier-III cities, which experts believe has a huge potential due to the government’s stress on regional route expansion.
“Immediately, we need to strengthen the domestic market and increase capacity.
“We will strengthen the existing routes by adding capacity, because there is a huge potential in this market,” said a top Air India official. International Air Transport Association, data show that domestic sector in India grew 20.2 per cent in 2015 -- the highest in the world.
“Slowly, we’ll introduce Dreamliners in metros such as Bombay-Delhi route.
“We find it will be feasible to offer a high-end product like the Dreamliner as it will do well on these routes,” the official added.
Air India’s 787s have 256 seats each, 18 of the business class and 238 economy seats.
According to data from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Air India has a market share of 16.4 per cent (as of 2015).
Market leader IndiGo’s share is twice this figure, at 36.2 per cent.
Asked if the airline will be commercially viable to operate the Dreamliner on domestic routes, the official said: “Passengers will be ready to pay Rs 200 more for amenities that a 787 can provide -- like more leg room and higher luggage allowance.”
The official added Air India would slowly phase out the A320s operating in West Asia and deploy it on the regional routes to add capacity.
“With falling ticket price, the Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities are generating a lot of traffic. “We will be looking at those cities because the 150-160 seater A320s are the right size of aircraft on such routes.”
In 2015, airlines in India flew 81 million passengers. Of this, Air India’s share was 13.3 million.
“The market leader is deploying 95 per cent of its capacity on domestic routes, whereas we have only 25 per cent our aircraft functioning on such routes.
“Our calculation says if we deploy 50 per cent capacity on domestic routes, our market share target is 50 per cent,” the official added.
Experts, though, are not convinced with Air India’s domestic turnaround plan.
“Air India has shortage of narrow-bodied aircraft.
“Deploying the Dreamliner on domestic routes will increase the operating cost for the airline,” said Devesh Agarwal, editor of Bangalore Aviation, an aviation blog.
Image: A Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft for All Nippon Airways is seen after its India debut landing at the Indira Gandhi international airport in New Delhi. Photograph: Mansi Thapliyal/Reuters