Air India unveils historic mega agreements with Airbus, Boeing

AFP-Jiji file photo
An Air India Boeing Dreamliner flies over Le Bourget Airport near Paris during the 50th International Paris Air show in June 2013.

BENGALURU, India (AFP-Jiji) — Air India will purchase 470 planes from Airbus and Boeing under a historic pair of mega agreements announced Tuesday, transforming the former national carrier as it prepares for scorching growth.

The airline, which is owned by the Tata Group, announced a contract to purchase 250 Airbus planes at an AeroIndia salon in Bengaluru at a ceremony attended virtually by French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

That was followed by a White House announcement that Air India also agreed to a firm order of 220 Boeing aircraft in a contract that U.S. President Joe Biden touted as a sign of American manufacturing might.

Combined, the two deals constitute the largest unveiled at the same time by a commercial carrier, overtaking a 2011 announcement by American Airlines to purchase 460 planes.

While there was no official value in Tuesday’s announcements, a calculation of the list price for the jets suggests the orders are worth more than $70 billion in total.

After a brutal downturn during the worst days of COVID-19, major carriers have been unveiling massive new jet orders amid rising travel demand in a boon for Airbus and Boeing, while also challenging supply chains.

“We are going through a massive transformation,” Air India Chairman N. Chandrasekaran said at the ceremony in India.

“One of the most important things is a modern fleet which can perform for all routes.”

Modi has described strengthening civil aviation as an important aspect of national infrastructure, citing estimates that India will need more than 2,000 aircraft in the next 15 years.

Under the deal with Airbus, Air India signed a letter of intent to buy 210 narrow-body A320neo jets and 40 long-haul A350 aircraft — with an unspecified number of options for more — as it plots to capture domestic market share and turn Indian airports into global travel hubs.

“Today is a historic moment for India, for Air India and for Airbus,” said Airbus Chief Executive Guillaume Faury, saying the size of the order “demonstrates the appetite for growth in the Indian aviation industry.”

The European aircraft manufacturer already has an engineering center in the country and sources some components from Indian suppliers.

Macron said the deal highlighted the bond between Paris and New Delhi.

“Today is one of the milestones of the in-depth strategic and friendly partnership we have between India and France,” he said.

The carrier’s agreement with Boeing includes a firm order of 190 narrow-body 737 MAX aircraft, along with 20 Boeing 787s and 10 Boeing 777X. The deal also has an option for an additional 50 MAX planes and 20 787s, the White House official said.

The White House noted the contract in the context of a U.S.-India initiative on critical and emerging technology unveiled between Biden and Modi in May 2022 and expanded last month.

“This purchase will support over one million American jobs across 44 states,” Biden said, adding that the announcement shows that “the United States can and will lead the world in manufacturing.”

A statement released by Modi’s office said the two leaders had a “warm and productive” call during which they characterized the agreement between Air India and Boeing “as a shining example of mutually beneficial cooperation that will help create new employment opportunities in both countries.”

Stan Deal, head of Boeing’s commercial airplane division, said the contract showed Air India’s “confidence in our products and services in the world’s fastest growing aviation market.”