Rendering of Air India Airbus and Boeing narrowbody aircraft with CFM LEAP engines.

Air India vows PaxEx transformation as it orders nearly 500 jets


Air India is vowing to offer a “new, world-class onboard product” after the Tata Sons-owned airline inked letters of intent with Airbus and Boeing to take a record 470 twinjets.

The massive orders come as India is “on the verge of an international air travel revolution”, says Airbus, and indeed has become “the world’s fastest growing aviation market”, according to Boeing. With a burgeoning middle class and post-pandemic recovery afoot, India’s domestic revenue passenger-kilometers (RPKs) for 2022 accounted for 85.7% of 2019 levels, IATA figures show.

Air India’s new commitment to Airbus covers 250 aircraft, including 140 A320neo and 70 A321neo single-aisle aircraft, as well as 34 Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-powered A350-1000 twin-aisle aircraft and six of the type’s smaller sibling, the A350-900. It already operates A320ceo and neo family aircraft.

A rendering of Air India's new Airbus orders, with narrowbodies and widebodies represented.

Airbus is ready to support Air India’s “renaissance” and touts the personal space, large overhead bins and latest IFE on board its jets. Image: Airbus

The carrier’s arrangement with Boeing covers 220 aircraft, including 190 737 MAX narrowbodies — both 737-8s and 737-10s — plus 20 GE Aerospace GEnx-1B-powered Boeing 787 widebodies and ten GE9X-powered 777-9s (also known as the 777X twin-aisle aircraft).

A rendering of Air India's Boeing order, with widebodies and narrowbodies represented.

The agreement between Boeing and Air India includes options for 50 additional 737 MAXs and 20 787-9s. Image: Boeing

All single-aisle aircraft will be powered by LEAP engines from CFM International, the joint venture between GE and Safran.

Deliveries to Air India are set to commence with the first A350-900 arriving by late-2023. However, the bulk of Air India’s new aircraft will arrive from mid-2025 onwards, notes the carrier.

These jetliners will play a key role in helping the newly privatized, full-service carrier execute on a transformation and growth strategy that will see it significantly expand its network, both domestically and internationally, and elevate its on-ground and onboard product “to world-class standards”, says Air India CEO and managing director Campbell Wilson.

One could argue that these improvements can’t come soon enough. Air India consistently comes under fire from passengers for its shabby interiors and poor passenger experience (PaxEx). But Tata Sons, which took charge of the beleaguered state-run airline last year, has already made several bold moves in the market. It is in the process of taking delivery of 11 leased Boeing 777s — including a cluster of 777s formerly operated by Delta — and 25 A320s to accelerate its fleet and network expansion.


Management’s decision to retain the top-notch interiors and nose-to-tail IFE system already aboard the leased, ex-Delta 777s has been celebrated by passengers, and bodes well for the carrier’s future PaxEx. So too does Air India’s recent decision to retrofit its existing 787s and 777s with new IFE and interiors, including premium economy seats. We await details on Air India’s choice of vendors, but the first of these refitted aircraft will enter service in mid-2024, says the airline.

Meanwhile, the growth enabled by Air India’s massive new orders with Airbus and Boing “will also provide unparalleled career opportunities for Indian aviation professionals and catalyse accelerated development of the Indian aviation ecosystem”, notes Tata Sons and Air India chairman N Chandrasekaran.

In addition to Air India, the Air India group currently comprises low-cost subsidiaries Air India Express and Air Asia India which are in the process of merging.

But further changes are afoot. Tata Sons recently announced its intention to merge Air India with Indian operator Vistara, a joint venture between Tata and Singapore Airlines in which the former holds a 51% share. (A full-service airline that flies both Airbus and Boeing types, Vistara has been taking delivery of new three-class 787-9s with impressive interiors.)

If and when the Air India/Vistara merger receives regulatory approval, the Air India group will comprise a single full-service airline, Air India, and a single low-cost airline, Air India Express, says the carrier in a statement.

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Featured image credited to Safran Group