An early customer of the 787, Air India took delivery of its first Dreamliner eight years ago today. Since then, the airline has used the new generation aircraft to fly popular routes in Europe and Asia, as well as domestic hops. So, how has the 787 impacted the carrier? Has the plane been a success with the company?
Air India purchased the 787 Dreamliner as a part of a blockbuster deal with Boeing in January 2006 to buy 68 aircraft, including 23 777s (-200LRs and -300ERs) and 18 737s (which went to Air India Express). The flag carrier purchased 27 of the 787-8 variant of the Dreamliner, at a list price of nearly $4bn.
The 787 served as the replacement for the aging fleet of A310s and leased A330s and 767s. Air India exclusively purchased the -8 variant due to its earlier delivery date and since it did not need the plane for ultra-long hops to the US at the time (which the 777 or 747s serve).
Initially, Air India was to receive its first Dreamliner in late 2008, but the infamous manufacturing delays pushed this date back to 2012. The airline’s first 787 was delivered on 6th September 2012, nearly three years after the expected time. It landed in New Delhi on the 8th from Charleston, South Carolina.
The 787-8 has a seating capacity of 256 passengers, with 18 in business class (2-2-2 configruation) and 238 in economy (3-3-3 layout). Air India opted to skip first class on this airliner, a first in its widebody fleet. The smaller business class cabin of three rows, does have an older product, without direct aisle access for all passengers, but is still largely comfortable.
Where does Air India use the plane?
Air India always intended to use the aircraft on long-haul routes to Europe, Asia, and Australia. Accordingly, the 787 flies to cities such as London, Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore, Paris, and more from major Indian cities. The plane offered a vast efficiency improvement over the A310 and offered more capacity than the older jet.
The 787 also makes many domestic hops between its international services, especially if demand is high, serving short routes such as Delhi to Amritsar or Kolkata. This can be quite exciting for many who are expecting a standard A320 service and a great way to try out the product at a fraction of the usual price.
More recently, Air India has been pushing the boundaries of the 787-8’s 6,600 NM range. The airline started using the plane on flights to Washington D.C. earlier this year, which is near the end of the plane’s range. This has been done due to the lower capacity on the route, which can’t sustain the larger 777.
Did the 787-8 work for Air India?
The 787-8 seems to have checked all of the boxes for Air India – it’s efficient, offers decent capacity, and reaches important long-haul destinations. The plane has served its intended purpose well, replacing the carrier’s older fleet and allowing for expansion into European and Asian markets.
However, recent years have shown that Air India might have been well-served by other variants of the 787 too. For instance, the 787-9’s extended range and more passenger space would allow the firm to start more routes to the US and Canada. Many of the company’s competitors have done the same, using the 787 on North American hops.
There’s no doubt the 787 has modernized Air India’s fleet and helped it remain competitive in the last eight years. The plane offers efficiency and enough passenger capacity to fulfill many important routes around the world.
However, the flag carrier may have been better served by ordering fewer of the -8s and waiting for other variants. The 787 has helped modernize the Air India fleet, but the large order of the same type has held it back from expanding even further.
Have you flown Air India’s 787 before? What was your experience? Should the airline have ordered other variants too? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!