Air India (AI) grounded all six planes of its Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet early today morning after a directive from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to airlines flying the 50-odd aircraft around the world.
Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said there was no certainty on when the aircraft would fly again. He added that would depend on when Boeing rectified the problem in lithium battery, the malfunctioning of which had led to an electrical fire in a Japanese airline ANA yesterday, forcing Japan to ground all its 24 Dreamliners. It would also depend on when the government got a report from FAA of its investigation on the aircraft.
Singh, however, did not rule out claiming compensation if the airworthiness of the aircraft clearance took a long time to come. He said: "We expect if an aircraft causes a commercial problem, Boeing would have to compensate."
For cash-strapped Air India, which has ordered 27 Dreamliners, to be delivered by 2016, the aircraft are key to its turnaround plan.
"Boeing is committed to supporting FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible. We are working around the clock with our customers and regulators," CEO Jim McNerney said in a statement.
AI has put together a contingency plan that includes replacing middle-haul Dreamliner (optimised to fly 10 hours) with long-haul 777 LEs (that can fly non-stop for 15 hours) on Frankfurt and Paris routes. To Dubai, it would fly the B747 400, with 423 seats. In the domestic sector, where it flies from New Delhi to Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore, the planes would be replaced with A320s.
Singh said it was too early to know the long-term impact of the grounding on AI. Experts, however, say the Dreamliners had replaced the 777 LEs on routes like Paris and Frankfurt as the 777s were fuel guzzlers and weighed more than the 787s, leading to a break-even only at 90 per cent.
Also, the grounding has put a question mark on future deliveries. Two more 787s are supposed to join the AI fleet by March-end and another six by December. These planes were expected to be deployed on the Australian routes of Sydney and Melbourne, which have no direct connectivity from India. AI was also planning to deploy the planes on the Singapore route, besides Istanbul and Bali.