Air India fears losing market share over 787 controversy

Last Updated: Thu, Jan 17, 2013 10:30 hrs

New Delhi, Jan 17 (IANS) National carrier Air India fears a loss in market share due to a safety controversy over the grounding of its six Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

"We have had a great run with the aircraft, which has shown no signs of technical problems till now. The FAA (US' Federal Aviation Administration) and then the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) have both earlier certified the aircraft as safe," a senior Air India official in the operations arm told IANS.

The official said the reports on safety issue may affect passenger confidence in the aircraft, thus hitting induction, training and deployment of the fuel efficient aircraft.

"The aircraft on domestic route between Delhi-Bangalore, Delhi-Chennai has increased our domestic share. In terms of international routes, Delhi-Frankfurt and the recently started Delhi-Paris route, have had a passenger load factor of around 75 percent."

DGCA Thursday directed Air India to withdraw all services on 787s with immediate effect after the US-based FAA warned of technical problems in the aircraft.

The Air India official, said that some international airlines which also operate 787, had faced problems with the aircraft's battery systems getting overheated. Recently, a smoke alarm was activated in one of the domestic flights operating over Japan.

"As far as the initial reports go, there is a fire risk associated with enhanced use of battery systems on board which have replaced many traditional hydraulic systems, thereby making the aircraft lighter. As this incident has happened only once, an initial investigation is in the offing," the official said.

The grounding - an unusual action for a new plane - focuses on one of the more risky design choices made by Boeing, namely to make extensive use of lithium ion batteries aboard its airplanes for the first time.

The batteries are part of an electrical system that replaces many mechanical and hydraulic ones common in previous jets.

National carrier Air India is the only airline in the country which operates the 787 Dreamliner.

"Safety issue is our top priority... However, after we get clearance from the regulator to operate the aircraft, we will get back with full vigour to restore passenger confidence, induction of more aircraft and training of more crew," the official said.

Air India had booked 27 Boeing 787s in 2006 in a mega-deal.

Till now, it has received six of these aircraft. Air India is supposed to get seven more 787s in 2013, five in 2014, six in 2015 and three in 2016.

The airline operates these aircraft from Delhi to Bangalore, Chennai, Dubai, Paris and Frankfurt.

Air India had second largest market share in November at 20.7 percent, followed by IndiGo at 27.3 percent.

On Sep 19, the airline started the first commercial service on the Dreamliner between New Delhi and Chennai, followed by New Delhi-Bangalore.

Air India has become the fifth airline in the world to have the fuel-efficient and eco-friendly aircraft.

The Dreamliner has also successfully replaced fuel-guzzling Boeing 777s on some of international routes, thus saving on cost and increasing efficiency.

The aircraft is made of composite materials. Its newly-developed engine and advanced flight technologies make it highly fuel-efficient. The plane can fly up to 16,000 km non-stop.

Air India was also planning to deploy the aircraft to Sydney, Melbourne and Singapore by the end of the current fiscal.

The Dreamliners are also an important component in the national carrier's turnaround plan.

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