Air India aims to accelerate its $400-million cabin refurbishment plan and hopes to offer improved customer experience on its Europe and the US flights from the second half of 2024, Chief Executive Officer Campbell Wilson said on Monday.
Wilson is overseeing the transformation of the airline that witnessed the restoration of grounded aircraft, ramp-up in hiring, and launch of new routes last year.
Six Airbus A350 planes, which are part of the 470 aircraft order at a list price of $70 billion, would join the fleet this year, Wilson said. The mega aircraft order will be funded through a mix of internal accruals, equity and debt, and leaseback mode.
The Tata group, which acquired Air India last year, has set in process the consolidation of all its airlines. Vistara will be merged into Air India and approval of antitrust authorities is underway.
The group has also decided to retain Air India as a single full-service brand but will retain and celebrate Vistara’s heritage in some form, the CEO.
Similarly, Air India, which has assigned a UK-based consultant for a brand makeover, will retain its famed Maharaja mascot, too.
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“Maharaja is one of the many assets of Air India as a consequence of its 90 years’ history. It is well-known and loved in India. It will be part of Air India’s future. Exactly how I can’t say,” Wilson said.
A complete refurbishment of the existing wide-body product is underway. “We should see the first aircraft (with refurbished cabin) in service by June or July of 2024. We would like to accelerate the process as fast as possible. There is regulatory, engineering, and physical manufacture of seats…. time constraints we can’t work around. However, I can say with confidence that by the second half of 2024 with new aircraft and with the refurbishment of aircraft, it will be a very different experience when you fly Air India wide-body planes,” he told journalists.
Wilson said the airline has made a good stride in repairing and replacing broken seats, cushions, and curtains in the existing wide-body aircraft, such as Boeing 777 and 787 planes. The in-flight entertainment system in business class cabins of these planes, too, has been made functional.
While Boeing 777 planes fly to North America, the 787 aircraft are deployed to Europe, East Asia, and Australia. While Air India is benefitting from reduced competition on India-US routes, it has been forced to cancel some flights because of the non-availability of the crew. Wilson said the airline is inducting 500 crew each month and is confident that this will serve the airline’s expansion needs. In the short term, the airline is also looking for expatriate pilots and Indians working with overseas airlines.
In response to a query, Wilson said that the airline has reviewed its alcohol service policy after an on-board urination incident and encouraged the crew to report cases. He said there are alcohol-related incidents happening daily with passengers consuming drinks prior to boarding or drinking from their own duty-free bottles on board.