Could Air India Fly A Boeing 787 To Washington D.C.?

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According to flight schedules, Air India will fly its 787-8 Dreamliner from Delhi, India to Washington D.C. starting January, a straight-line distance of 6,522 nautical miles. However, according to Air India’s website, the range of the aircraft with passengers and baggage is 6,600 nautical miles. There’s not much room for error if the aircraft is filled to capacity. Can the airline really use its Dreamliner on this route?

air india dreamliner
Air India usually flies its 787-8 on routes within the 3,700 nautical mile range. Photo: Air India

Swapping the 777 for the 787?

Currently, Air India operates its Delhi-D.C. service using a Boeing 777-300ER which has a range of 7,370 nautical miles – a fair bit more than the 787-8. According to Air India’s website, its 777-300ER in a three-class configuration transports over 340 passengers.

However, there must be a real lack of demand if the airline has plans to change the aircraft to the much smaller 787-8. Search for tickets on this route after January 8th and you’ll see that it’s no longer the 777-300ER.

Air India has scheduled its 787 to fly from Delhi to D.C. from early-January. Photo: Google Flights

The smaller 787-8 carries 256 passengers in two classes according to Air India. We understand that aircraft changes would occur because of decreased demand, but the technical specifications just don’t seem to add up.

Best Washington Airport Dulles
Washington-Dulles is the main international airport serving the D.C. area. Photo: Joe Ravi via Wikimedia Commons

Technical abilities of Air India’s 787

As we mentioned above, Delhi, India to Washington D.C. is a straight-line distance of 6,522 nautical miles. Compare this number to the airline’s stated range of 6,600 nautical miles (with only passengers and baggage, no cargo) and you’ll realize that it’s cutting things close.

In fact, Air India flys its Dreamliners on shorter routes with nothing coming close to DEL-IAD. According to Airport Spotting, Air India uses its 787-8s on routes that mostly lie within the 3,500 to 3,800 nautical mile range. Here are some examples of longer routes:

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  • Bangalore to London Heathrow (4,348nm)
  • Delhi to Sydney (5,627nm)
  • Delhi to Melbourne (5,494nm)

According to Flying Magazine, United States’ Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 91.167 states that in general, it is a requirement that aircraft carry enough fuel for 45 minutes of normal cruise beyond the destination airport.

Extra fuel is required for diversions, headwinds, unexpected route changes due to weather, and even for geopolitical reasons. Without getting too technical, it seems like the distance of this route is a little out of reach for Air India’s Dreamliners…

Live from a Lounge also points out that Air India was one of the first operators of the Boeing 787, meaning that it has early airframes that are heavier compared to the same models being manufactured today. This would obviously reduce its range even further.

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The distance between Delhi and Washington D.C. is 6,522nm. Photo: GCMaps

How it could work…

It’s conceivable that this route could work if the 6,600 nautical miles stated on Air India’s website also includes reserve fuel as well. Furthermore, the airline could block off seats on this service so that the payload is reduced further. In fact, the world’s longest flight does this by making the Singapore to Newark journey a business and premium-economy-only service. Of course, this would cut into the profitability of this route.

Air India Boeing 787 Dreamliner
Air India has 27 Dreamliners in its fleet. Photo: Air India

Conclusion

In conclusion, the numbers we see posted online indicate that it’s certainly possible for Air India to fly a Delhi to Washington D.C. service under the right conditions. However, the airline would be nearing the limits of flight regulations and maybe even cutting into its own profitability as it is unable to fly cargo or perhaps a full passenger load.

The only other explanation for this is that it was a scheduling mistake. We’ve checked in with Air India about this and we’re still waiting for a response from them. We’ll update this post if we get a response!

Do you think this aircraft change was a mistake? Or is Air India trying to take its 787s to the upper limits of their range? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

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