Old Age Catches Up With Air-India's Fleet

Emergency landings by two of its aircraft at Delhi on April 9 has yet again highlighted the dire need for an early replacement of Air- India's ageing fleet. An Airbus A310 coming from Shanghai via Bangkok made an emergency landing as the front gear collapsed. As soon as the aircraft was cleared from the runway, a Boeing 767 reported hydraulic problems and had to make an emergency landing. "Poor maintenance is the major cause behind the two incidents. We agree that the fleet is old but proper maintenance could have prevented the mishap," a senior civil aviation ministry official said. The average age of 16.23 years for Air-India's fleet is above the global industry average of 180 months, or 15 years. But when compared with other global aviation leaders, the gap is glaring. Emirates, which has one of the best industry averages, has a fleet age of 5.1 years, while Singapore Airlines and Jet Airways have an average fleet age of 6.4 years and 5.3 years, respectively. Older legacy carriers like British Airways and Lufthansa have an average fleet age of 10.6 and 10.3 years, respectively. Air-India has four different kinds of aircraft in its fleet. The Boeing 777-200s are on lease and their average age is 10 years. Of the 10 Boeing 747 aircraft, six belong to the company. Their average age is 11 years. For the other four leased aircraft, the average is 15 years. The oldest in the fleet consists of 19 Airbus A310 aircraft, all belonging to the company, with an average age of 20 years. The company has, however, recently placed orders worth $7.1 billion for 68 Boeing aircraft. Domestic sector carrier Indian Airlines' fleet age averages 14 years. Once the two airlines are merged, the fleet age will fall in line with global standards and average 15.1 years. Salem Obaidalla, Emirates vice-president, India and Nepal said, "Emirates operates one of the youngest fleet in the skies, with an average age of 61 months. At the end of its service period, the aircraft is returned to the manufacturer as part of a buy-back agreement linked to new units phased-in. In the case of an aircraft on operating lease, the unit is returned to the operating lessor / the owner at the end of the lease term, which normally coincides with the phase-out date planned. To date, most of Emirates' aircraft phase-outs have been managed on the above lines."