Tuesday, March 09, 2021

End of an era: Air India planning to phase out its Boeing 747 jumbo jets

New Delhi: Air India is planning to phase out a key slice of its history — the Boeing 747s — which it has been operating for exactly 50 years now and are synonymous with the Maharaja’s long gone heydays.

The airline had got its first jumbo jet in 1971 — a B747-200B named Emperor Ashoka — and for the last over 25 years is operating the B747-4 version that has an extended upper deck. For decades, the jumbo jet has been the sky’s most sensuously curvaceous beauty.

Three of the 4 B747s in AI fleet (one is in no condition to fly) were being mainly used for VVIP flights and regular commercial ones when not used by the dignitaries. Last year, the government got two new state-of-the-art Boeing 777s as India’s desi Air Force One which will be exclusively used for the president, PM and Vice-President’s ultralong/long/medium haul international visits. Recently the government conveyed to divestment-bound AI that its requirement for the old warhorse B747s will not be much for VVIP flights.

“We are planning to phase out the jumbo jets. The final decision will be taken by AI board, possibly in its next meeting. The planes are over 25 years old on an average and will be scrapped. Their residual value lies in the about 10 engines we have of these 747s that could fetch about $2 million apiece,” said a senior official.

AI could be the only commercial Indian airline ever to operate four-engine aircraft. Vijay Mallya had ordered the four-engine Airbus A340s for Kingfisher, but could never induct them in the fleet before the airline shut down in 2012.

With the 747s, AI under JRD Tata had set new levels of inflight luxury. It introduced a new "Palace in the Sky" livery and branding for this aircraft. The tastefully decorated staircase to the upper deck; jharokha interior flight panels; dewans and bar were way ahead of their time when introduced onboard these beautiful machines in the 70s by JRD.

The drastically reduced demand for air travel during Covid has shortened the commercial lifespan of even new-gen four-engine passenger jets — B747, A340 and A380 — with airlines using them globally grounding them; drastically reducing their use or cutting short their use-by period — in favour of the frugal twin-engine medium/long haul jets like B777, B787, A330 and A350s.

09/03/21 Saurabh Sinha/Times of India

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