Air India has agreed to orders for 470 Airbus and Boeing widebodies and narrowbodies, sending a powerful signal about the carrier’s growth ambitions in the booming Indian market.

Unveiled during Aero India 2023, the Airbus component consists of a letter of intent (LOI) to acquire 210 A320neo-family aircraft and 40 A350s. 

Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer said the narrowbodies are split between 140 A320neos and 70 A321neos, while on the twin-aisle side the airline had ordered six A350-900s and, significantly, 34 A350-1000s. The A320neo-family deliveries will start in 2027 but the widebodies will come sooner, Scherer said. 

The six A350-900s—originally destined for Russia’s Aeroflot before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine—will start arriving at the end of 2023 while the A350-1000s will begin from the end of 2024, Scherer said.

 Air India parent Tata Group indicated there are also significant options to increase the order as Air India grows.

Boeing’s share consists of firm orders for 190 737 MAXs, 20 787s, and 10 777Xs, a White House official said. The agreement, which will be officially unveiled by U.S. President Joe Biden, also includes options for 50 737 MAXs and 20 787s. Details on the Boeing variants were not immediately available.

Engine Bonanza

While the aircraft manufacturers are grabbing most headlines, GE Aerospace is the biggest winner from the Air India order both through its CFM joint venture with Safran on the Leap and as exclusive engine provider to Boeing with the GE9X on the 777-9. CFM completed a clean sweep of the single-aisle share of the deal, snagging orders for 800 engines. Some 420 of these are for Leap-1As, selected by Air India over the competing Pratt & Whitney PW1100G to power 210 A320/A321neos. The balance is made up of 380 Leap-1Bs which exclusively power the 737 MAX family.

Air India’s decision to select the CFM Leap for its A320neos is not considered a surprise given its existing links with the Franco-U.S. joint venture and the well-publicized service issues faced by Pratt since 2016 with Indian-based PW1100G-operators Indigo and GoAir. Although Pratt declared in March 2022 the engine’s long-running reliability problems in India were behind it, the contest for the Air India order was always likely to be a long shot given the flag carrier has operated Leap-1A powered A320neos since 2017.

The Air India win also adds 60 engines to GE’s large turbofan orderbook—20 GE9X to power the airline’s 10-strong 777X order and 40 GEnx-1Bs for the 20 787s also included in the deal. The GEnx-1B announcement further cements GE’s growing market share on the 787 which is now believed to be in excess of 65% against the competing Rolls-Royce Trent 1000. Although first to fly on the 787, the Trent has suffered from a slew of corrosion and fatigue issues which has impacted operator confidence in the engine and will, by later this year, have cost Rolls an estimated £2.3 billion ($2.8 billion).

Rolls grabbed a large slice of the Air India deal through its exclusive position as supplier of the Trent XWB on the A350. In all, the order covers 80 firm Trent XWBs, of which 68 are for the XWB-97 engine which powers the A350-1000. The balance is made up of 12 XWB-84s for the six A350-900s included in the package. Rolls says the Air India order, which includes options for 10 additional A350-1000s, represents the largest single deal yet placed for the XWB-97 version. No financial value for the order has been released.

Boeing’s deal extends beyond delivering new aircraft and into the aftermarket space. Air India has agreed to use Boeing Global Services for “lifecycle support,” including spare parts, landing gear exchange, pilot and maintenance personnel training, and unspecified “aircraft modifications,” the U.S. company said.

Big India Plans

Securing aircraft orders was an important priority for the Tata Group after it took control of Air India in January 2022, as the carrier had no aircraft on order at that time. The group also plans to streamline its airline holdings by merging Air India and Vistara and combining LCCs Air India Express and AirAsia India.

Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury said that while Air India’s aircraft will be assembled in Europe, many of the components and parts will come from Indian companies and Airbus facilities in India.

“We do not see India just as a growth market,” Faury said. “At Airbus, we see India as a strategic industrial and technological hub offering the right mix of competences and competitiveness.”

Tata Group chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran underscored the deal’s broader ramifications.

“We are really working on bigger partnerships,” Chandrasekaran said during a press briefing. “One of our ambitions for this country is to bring in commercial aircraft manufacturing at some point in time in the future. We have teams aligned on both sides, and we see this moment as a most significant moment for the Tata Group’s Air India, Indian aviation and for the manufacturing sector in India.”

The orders are an essential enabler of Air India’s goal of boosting its domestic and international market shares.

Air India has already taken steps to address its short-term fleet needs before its latest orders are delivered. Announcements from the carrier last year in September and December signaled that it would lease another 36 aircraft, comprising A320-family aircraft and 777s. These have already begun arriving.

Air India currently has 102 aircraft in service, according to the Aviation Week Network’s Fleet Discovery database. When combined with Air India Express, Vistara and AirAsia India, the fleet size grows to 209.

Air India and AirAsia India have Airbus-only narrowbody fleets, and all but a handful of Vistara’s narrowbodies are from Airbus. Air India Express is the only carrier in the group that predominantly operates 737s.

In terms of the widebody fleet, Air India and Vistara combined have 45 aircraft, comprising 777s and 787s. The A350 will be a new type for the twin-aisle fleet.

The latest deals mean Indian carriers will have combined orders for more than 1,200 narrowbody aircraft. LCC IndiGo accounts for the largest number, with nearly 500 Airbus narrowbody orders.

Data from CAPA and OAG shows that Airbus has a 79.4% share of India’s in-service narrowbodies and a 64.1% share of the country’s narrowbody orders—not including the latest LOIs.

This content was originally published here.