UPDATE: Air India Expects to Resume Dreamliner Flights in April
-- Air India has grounded its six Dreamliner planes since January
-- Carrier halts plan to start Dreamliner flights to Sydney, Melbourne
-- Air India expects to post operating profit this fiscal year
-- Minister says Jet Airways, Etihad continuing talks for alliance
(Rewrites; adds comments from Air India chairman, aviation minister)
By Santanu Choudhury
NEW DELHI--Air India Ltd. expects to bring back its half a dozen grounded Boeing Dreamliner jets to operation within
two months, its chairman said Wednesday, a move that will allow the state-run airline renew its efforts to turn
The Indian flag carrier is one of Boeing Co.'s (BA) initial customers for the Dreamliner. The jetliners, which its
manufacturer says are more fuel-efficient than similarly sized jets, are crucial in Air India's plans to turn around its
operations by cutting cost and starting services to more foreign destinations.
"My engineers expect that it (resumption of Dreamliner flights) should be sometime in the middle of April," Rohit
Nandan told reporters.
Air India suspended flights on the twin-engine jets in the middle of January after being asked to do so by India's
civil aviation regulator. This followed the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's directive to suspend all flights of
U.S.-registered Dreamliners pending completion of a safety review related to battery malfunctions.
The U.S. safety review is still on.
A spokeswoman for Boeing in India didn't immediately comment.
Air India ordered a total of 27 Dreamliner planes in January 2006 and six of them have been delivered, though several
years behind schedule. Mr. Nandan said the airline was scheduled to get a Dreamliner each in January and February, but
they haven't come yet.
Despite the delivery delay, the grounding of the planes and an earlier strike by its workers, Air India is likely to
post an operating profit this fiscal year, the chairman said, underscoring that the steps taken by the government and
the airline to improve its financial performance may have started bearing fruit.
"Our target is to be Ebitda positive at the end of the year and we hope that we should be able to achieve that," Mr.
Nandan said, indicating it could post a profit before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization in the year ending
"The operating profit amount will be larger in the next financial year," he said, adding that the airline will post a
net profit in the year through March 2018.
Air India hasn't posted a net profit since 2007 when the government merged Indian Airlines and Air India to create the
current entity. Previously Air India operated on international routes while Indian Airlines mostly flew flights within
The government last year announced a turnaround and financial restructuring package for Air India with conditions that
required the airline to cut costs and improve productivity.
The airline is phasing out its older fuel-guzzling planes, returning leased planes and inducting new aircraft to
reduce its operating cost. It has also frozen hiring, closed offices at several foreign locations and relocated some
senior officers to India.
Further delays in getting the remaining Dreamliner planes it had ordered and bringing back the grounded ones into
service could hurt the airline's turnaround plans.
Air India was operating the Dreamliner on flights to Paris, Frankfurt and Dubai, as well as on three domestic routes.
It was planning to start Dreamliner flights to Sydney and Melbourne this summer. That plan has however been put on
hold as Boeing has halted delivery of new Dreamliner jets to customers worldwide following the FAA directive, Mr. Nandan
As many as 50 Dreamliner jets have been grounded worldwide, including of Japan Airlines Co. (9201.TO) and All Nippon
Airways Co. (9202.TO).
Mr. Nandan said Air India has received "some offers" to its January proposal to sell the Dreamliner planes to leasing
companies and lease them back on monthly rentals. He declined to elaborate.
He said also that it has received an undisclosed "serious offer" to its plan to sell five Boeing 777-200 long-range
Earlier, addressing a news conference, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said Air India's passenger revenue has
increased 3.5% year-on-year between April 2012 and January 2013.
Passenger load factor on its flights improved as well to 71.8% in the same period, from 68.5% a year earlier, Mr.
Singh said. Air India carried 3.4% more passengers during the April to January period, he added.
Mr. Singh said also Jet Airways (India) Ltd. (532617.BY) and Abu Dhabi carrier Etihad Airways are still in talks for a
Etihad plans to buy a 24% stake in Jet for about $300 million, people close to the talks had said recently.
"All we know is that they are discussing," the minister said.
Mr. Singh said there is a plan to establish a panel to monitor air fares of local carriers, although there isn't any
proposal by the government to regulate fares.
Write to Santanu Choudhury at email@example.com
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