The grounding of Air India's Boeing 787 fleet will impact its operations and the state-run airline may have to combine its flights to keep the schedule intact. The Dreamliner fleet was grounded following the US Federal Aviation Administration's emergency air worthiness directive on Wednesday that requires Boeing and airlines, including Air India, to take corrective action on defective batteries in the plane before undertaking further flights.
Air India has six Boeing 787s and uses them on three domestic routes (Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata) and three international routes (Dubai, Frankfurt and Paris). The airline is due to receive two more 787s in January and February and the decision to induct them will now hinge on how the US plane maker addresses the safety concerns. Air India has 27 such 787s on order.
The national carrier has about 80 pilots trained to fly the Boeing Dreamliner. With the jets grounded, Air India will have to deploy Boeing 777s on the Frankfurt and Paris routes and airbus A320s for its domestic flights.
The pilots from the Dreamliner fleet cannot be utilised to fly other aircraft unless they undergo refresher course (simulator training and route checks).
The airline is deploying a Boeing 747-400 plane on the Delhi-Dubai route and is clubbing the Paris and Frankfurt routes using a Boeing 777 today. Air India had to send additional pilots for the return leg to Delhi as it did not have Boeing 777 pilots stationed in these European cities.
"Grounding of planes was not foreseen when Air India began training its pilots on the 787. We introduced Boeing 787 on routes like Frankfurt because of better route economics and now we will have to deploy the Boieng 777 on those routes again. We may have to combine some flights over the next few days because non-availability of adequate number of trained Boeing 777 captains,'' an Air India official said, requesting anonymity.
The airline has around 300 pilots trained to operate its 20 Boeing 777s. Of them, about 15-17 are in active operations and the rest under maintenance. " We are expecting further guidelines from FAA and DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation). We will have to carry inspections based on the directive,'' the Air India official added.
FAA issued the emergency directives following two incidents involving a lithium-ion battery failure in the plane. "The battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke on two Model 787 airplanes. The root cause of these failures is currently under investigation. These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment,'' FAA said in a release.
Last Friday, FAA announced a comprehensive review of the 787's critical systems with the possibility of further action pending new data and information. In addition to the continuing review of the aircraft's design, manufacture and assembly, the agency also will validate that 787 batteries and the battery system on the aircraft are in compliance with the special condition the agency issued as part of the aircraft's certification.