Air India aircraft parked at an airport on a cloudy day.

Shabby seats, broken IFE. Are upgrades in the offing at Air India?

Fractured armrests, shabby seats, and inoperative IFE could be seen as part of the legacy of the pandemic era, when some of India’s financially strapped airlines appear to have put cabin interior maintenance and upgrades on hold as operations were cancelled or curtailed.

The country’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in April told SpiceJet to ground an aircraft to address broken cabin panels and some torn seats.

One month later, newly-privatized Air India reportedly downgraded passengers from business to economy class on a flight to London on account of malfunctioning seats.

But while the pandemic may have delayed fixes and upgrades, the problems at Air India are not new, nor do they appear to be isolated. Air India passengers on social media regularly share alarming photos of the carrier’s cabin interiors, particularly aboard its long-haul aircraft.

Last month the DGCA warned the nation’s carriers not to sell unserviceable seats, stating:

This practice is not just causing inconvenience to travelers but inviting a serious safety concern as well.

As per Rule 53 of The Aircraft Rule, 1937, all materials including the aircraft seat shall conform to approved design specifications. The installation of any part failing to meet the intended design requirements degrades the requirements of airworthiness.

The regulator said noncompliance would be “viewed seriously”.

But in a situation that is understood to have complicated matters, employees at the still-government-owned MRO unit, Air India Engineering Services Limited (AIESL), went into “go slow” mode earlier this year to pressure the government to remedy salary disputes, an AIESL engineer told Runway Girl Network. AIESL, like Air India before it, is in line for privatization.

While Air India’s 27 new Airbus A320neos do not need to be upgraded, the carrier’s aged 777s clearly need to be addressed. In addition to reports of shabby seats, inoperative seatback IFE systems onboard these widebodies are often the focus of passenger complaints.

Attention should also be paid to even the newer 787s in Air India’s fleet, with tales of broken seats and problematic IFE coloring the passenger experience.

Air India’s new owner, Tata Group, is eager to support cabin refreshes, and discussions are underway with Air India’s long-time seat supplier Aviointeriors, claims a source with knowledge of the situation, who spoke to RGN on the condition of anonymity. Additionally, he alleged, a request for proposal has been issued to support retrofits on Air India’s 15 A321s.

However, Tata’s media spokesperson could not be reached for comment to corroborate these claims.

Rotation

In a hotly competitive environment that is seeing the launch of Indian low-cost start-up Akasa Air and the forthcoming relaunch of Jet Airways, the pressure is on for the nation’s airlines to ensure that their cabins are up to snuff.

It is hoped that the opening of a 10,000 square ft facility for cabin and interior repairs by Air Works will lower the cost of repairs, refurbishments, and carpet replacements. The company’s clients include Vistara, GoAir and AirAsia India.

“Passenger experience is important in this competitive world. Business is on an upswing and opportunities are immense in this segment,” Air Works India CEO Anand Bhaskar told RGN in reference to the aircraft MRO opportunities in India.

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Featured image credited to Nivedita Bhasin