Air India to fund $70 billion plane order with cash and equity amid overseas push - GulfToday

Air India to fund $70 billion plane order with cash and equity amid overseas push


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Air India said on Monday it plans to fund its $70 billion order for a record 470 aircraft with internal cash, equity and through sale-and-leasebacks, as the airline seeks to rapidly expand its presence in international markets.

Tata Group-owned Air India said on Feb.14 it would buy 220 planes from Boeing and 250 from Airbus in a deal that has eclipsed previous records for an order made by a single carrier.

“So the principal driver (for the plane order) was really recognising the opportunity for Indian aviation and putting in place the investment in the capacity of the aircraft in order to realise that for India’s benefit,” Air India Chief Executive Officer Campbell Wilson said on Monday.

“We see significant opportunity in long-haul international,” he said, adding that a new order for 70 widebody planes combined with its exiting fleet and other leased aircraft means “a many-fold increase in Air India’s widebody long-haul fleet, and therefore, capacity.”

Air India, once considered a world-class airline in India, saw its image tarnish in the mid-2000s due to financial troubles, an ageing fleet and poor service.

The airline’s renaissance under the Tata conglomerate, which took control of the previously government-owned carrier last year, aims to capitalise on India’s growing base of fliers and large diaspora across the world.

There is untapped opportunity in direct flights to North America, Wilson said, adding that Air India will also increase the frequency of flights to European destinations, including to places such as Frankfurt, Paris and the United Kingdom.

The airline is spending $400 million on refurbishing and upgrading its planes, especially on long-haul routes as it looks to compete with bigger rivals such as Emirates.

Air India is inducting 500 cabin crew each month, Wilson said. The airline said last week that it will hire more than 4,200 cabin crew and 900 pilots.

Earlier this month Air India has sealed a jumbo deal for about 500 new planes worth more than $100 billion at list prices, in what could become the single largest order by any airline as it seeks to reinvent itself under its new owners.

The deal, split equally between France’s Airbus and rival planemaker Boeing, was first reported by Reuters in December and could finally be announced as early as next week, the sources said.

Air India has agreed to purchase 250 Airbus planes, split between 210 single-aisle A320neos and 40 widebody A350s, and 220 Boeing aircraft including 190 of its 737 MAX narrowbody jets, 20 787 widebodies and 10 777Xs.

While Airbus and Air India signed the agreement on Friday, Boeing agreed its deal with the airline on Jan. 27, a date that marks a year since Tata regained ownership of the former state-run carrier, sources told Reuters.

Airbus declined to comment. Air India did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment outside of regular business hours.

In a note to employees on Jan.27, the airline said it was “finalising a historic order for new aircraft”. The order reflects Air India’s strategy to modernise its ageing fleet and re-capture a solid share of trips between India’s large overseas diaspora and cities such as Delhi and Mumbai.

The deal for 400 narrowbodies will also allow Air India to win a bigger share of regional international traffic and the domestic market, setting up a battle on both fronts with IndiGo.

While the Airbus figure is slightly lower than the 275 originally envisaged, the sources did not rule out a provision by Air India for top-up acquisitions or leases at a later point.

It was not immediately clear to what extent the numbers in the agreement included options that could change the total tally when the final orders are in.

The record order aims to put Air India in the league of large global airlines and make it an influential customer for planemakers and suppliers at a time when its home market is seeing a strong post-COVID-19 travel surge. Air India, with its maharajah mascot, was once known for its lavishly decorated planes and stellar service but its reputation declined in the mid-2000s as financial troubles mounted. Under its new owners, the airline is looking to restore its reputation at home and abroad as a storied carrier with impeccable service and world-class planes.

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