Indian Airlines Will See Their Fleets Get Smaller This Year

Indian airlines are expected to see their fleet size shrink in 2021. The net fleet size will drop to below 700 as retirements outnumber aircraft deliveries by 15-20 planes. The news comes after the aviation industry has been battered by a brutal second wave of COVID-19 during the spring.

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Only a handful of Indian airlines are scheduled to take delivery of new planes in 2021, most of which will go to low-cost giant IndiGo. Photo: Getty Images


According to a report from CAPA, seen in Reuters, India’s commercial aircraft fleet will dip below 700 aircraft in 2021. While airlines plan to take delivery of 69 new planes this year, 86 planes will exit fleets. This is due to retirements as well as possible repossessions, as carriers face a serious cash crunch.

The reducing fleet size will be a major blow to the recovery of Indian aviation and future growth plans. Even 2020 saw minimal net aircraft retirements, as several airlines continued to take deliveries through the year. However, this year’s events have resulted in an accelerated rate of retirements and possible groundings.

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As airlines face a severe cash crunch and no plans for fresh deliveries, carriers like SpiceJet have retired over a dozen planes since last year. Photo: Getty Images

Even the planes that remain in fleets will see little activity. CAPA predicts that nearly half the national fleet, 250 to 300 planes, will be grounded in the first half of the fiscal year due to capacity limits and low demand.

The second wave has left nearly all airlines in a financial fix too, with losses expected to top $4.1 billion this year. Without a boost of cash, airlines risk losing more planes to lessors or even shutting down in the worst case. However, the latter seems unlikely as domestic traffic begins gradually recovering this month.

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Before the pandemic, India was one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets and a huge fleet expansion was underway. This was primarily driven by low-cost giant IndiGo, which was adding dozens of new planes as it grew its footprint domestically and internationally.

However, 2020 saw a reversal of this trend. While IndiGo ended the year as Airbus’ biggest customer, it also retired dozens of aging A320ceos. This meant the year ended with a small net change in the fleet. While carriers like Vistara and AirAsia India also saw fleet growth, other carriers saw losses.

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IndiGo’s retirements mean that India’s fleet will not begin expanding until 2022 at the earliest. Photo: Getty Images

Things were not looking good prior to the pandemic either for the overall fleet size. The collapse of Jet Airways in April 2019 left a huge gap in the national fleet. While nearly two dozen 737s made their way back to SpiceJet and Vistara, over 100 more went back to lessors and foreign carriers.


As the pandemic once again pushes back India’s aviation recovery to at least 2022, don’t expect to see any major fleet increases until then. However, with major aircraft orders by the likes of IndiGo, SpiceJet, and Vistara, India’s aviation fleet will definitely begin growing again in the next few years.

What do you think about India’s fleet count? Let us know in the comments.