The much-awaited “triple digit” order from Akasa Air was finally signed at Wings India yesterday. Akasa Air and Boeing announced the signing of the order which includes 150 aircraft.

Visitors gathered near an Akasa Air aircraft during the ‘Wings India 2024’, an exhibition and conference on civil aviation, at the Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad on January 18, 2024.(AFP)

This comes amid the backdrop of another round of controversy about the MAX, as the MAX 9 remains under investigation following the incident with Alaska Airlines, which saw the aircraft lose a door while in the air. Akasa Air currently has a fleet of 22 aircraft, 21 of which are MAX 8 while one is the high density MAX 8-200.

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The airline has 54 more aircraft awaiting delivery from the previous order. The total aircraft yet to be undelivered to Akasa Air now stands at 204.

This is a big win for Boeing as it makes further inroads in the narrowbody market in India, which has been primarily dominated by Airbus. After the fall of Jet Airways, there were less than 100 Boeing narrowbodies in India as Air India Express did not grow its fleet awaiting privatisation and SpiceJet continued its financial spiral. While the MAX of SpiceJet remains on order, it has not seen any delivery since 2019 when the aircraft were grounded worldwide. Some have also left the fleet since then.

Numbers don’t lie

At the end of 2023, there were 539 narrowbody passenger planes with scheduled carriers on DGCA register. Only 15% of these were Boeing, with the rest 85% being Airbus led largely by IndiGo. These numbers do not include the fleet of Go FIRST which is grounded since May last year. The numbers are even more skewed in favour of Airbus if Go FIRST’s grounded fleet is included, as it is not yet de-registered from the Indian register.

Both Airbus and Boeing have problems with groundings. The one with Airbus is driven by Pratt & Whitney engines while those of Boeing is driven by the finances of the airline. Thus the operational fleet in India is less than the 539 planes which are part of the civil registry.

Also read: Jhunjhunwala-backed Akasa Air orders 150 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft

Good news for Boeing

Boeing has been plain unlucky in a few ways. Jet Airways went down, while SpiceJet continued with its financial troubles leading to the lack of ability to grow. In fact, SpiceJet has lost fleet and market share in the country and all its promises to induct additional MAX aircraft have not materialised. While Airbus, too, took a hit from the fall of Kingfisher Airlines; IndiGo more than compensated for the dominance to continue for Airbus.

Boeing’s first breakthrough was with Akasa Air in November of 2021 while the next big one came with Air India group. The Tata group is not new to Boeing and vice versa. Both the companies have been working and are Joint Venture partners too in both defence and civilian programs.

With the mega order from IndiGo, Airbus maintains a lead when it comes to backlog from India in the narrowbody segment but Boeing is making inroads.

What does it mean for Akasa Air?

Akasa Air has had the misfortune of losing its primary financial backer Mr Jhunjhunwala exactly a week after the first flight. The going has not been good for a while. The airline has lost market share, filed cases against its former pilots, closed a station within days of starting it and announced the triple digit order by the end of the year which did not happen.

A fleet plan and order gives confidence to the market and ecosystem that the airline has plans to expand which helps it attract pilots and helps airports make their plans for expansion and allocate slots.

Also read: Alaska incident: Which airlines in India are flying the Boeing 737 MAX and should you be worried?

Tail Note

The order gives further boost to fleet renewal efforts in India where 70% of the narrow body fleet is either MAX or NEO, the new generation planes from Being and Airbus respectively. Both large aircraft manufacturers are working hard towards moving to Sustainable Aviation as a future and investing billions towards research with the first phase being improvement of fuel consumption led by a re-engined version of their popular planes.

Both the NEO and the MAX have their own share of problems, how long does it finally take to solve them is anybody’s guess. For now it is Akasa Air’s turn to bask in the glory.

Ameya Joshi is an aviation analyst



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