Air India returns home

Today, 27th January 2022 is a historic day for Indian aviation. Today is the day, India’s flag carrier Air India finally returns home!

69 years after it was nationalized, Air India has been formally taken over by the Tata Group today.

Air India was founded by J.R.D. Tata in 1932, and was originally called Tata Airlines. It was later converted to a public limited company and renamed as Air India. Back in the day, Air India was one of the world’s leading airlines both in terms of service and technology. It was the first Asian airline to enter the jet age when it inducted the first Boeing 707 in 1960.

A decade later, Air India inducted the first Boeing 747-200 into its fleet and introduced the Palace in the Sky branding and livery.

It was nationalized and taken over by the Government of India in 1953. Air India focused on international routes while a new airline company, Indian Airlines was formed to take over domestic routes.

The airline had a rocky history as a government owned entity, and its service standards dipped. Poor customer service, low on-time performance, worn out aircraft interiors tarnished the reputation of the Maharaja. Multiple efforts were made to improve the airline’s standing through the years, but none could turn its fortunes around.

As part of a consolidation exercise, Air India was merged with Indian Airlines in 2007 to create a mega carrier with a large, diverse aircraft fleet and an even larger workforce. It was invited to join Star Alliance in 2007 but with the airline merger proving to be a difficult undertaking, Air India could not meet the joining requirements.

After an excruciatingly long process of integration, Air India finally joined Star Alliance in July 2014, a full seven years after it was originally invited! It was and is the only airline from India to be part of a global airline alliance.

The Government of India had been making efforts to privatize the airline for decades, but none of those were successful. The airline kept posting losses year after year and had to be bailed out using taxpayer money. At the same time, the influx of lean privately operated airlines, especially low cost carriers kept eroding Air India’s market share.

Starting 2020, the privatization efforts gathered steam, and finally in October 2021, the Tata Group (through a Special Purpose Vehicle – Talace Private Limited) won the bid to acquire Air India from the Government of India, thus completing a full circle in the airline’s history.

The future of Air India looks bright in the hands of its original owners. The Tata Group is known for its high standards in customer service especially in the hospitality and travel industries. How they manage to tame the jumbo (no pun intended 🙂 ) remains to be seen. The decline in air travel due to the pandemic as well as other issues such as handling the bloated workforce and integrating Air India with other airlines in the portfolio such as Vistara are immediate challenges that will need to be addressed.

Here’s wishing the Tatas all the best, and hope they can restore the Maharaja to its former glory!

Air India’s Star Alliance fleet

Air India joined Star Alliance – the world’s largest global airline alliance on July 11, 2014 as its 27th member. As is the custom, the alliance members paint a few of their aircraft in a special Star Alliance livery. This livery usually consists of a white fuselage with the words “Star Alliance” across it and a black tail fin with the alliance logo.

At the time of joining the alliance, Air India painted one of its Airbus A320s, VT-ESF in the Star Alliance livery. This was rolled out on July 11, 2014.

Here is VT-ESF painted in the Star Alliance livery, touching down on Runway 09 at BOM.

One interesting aspect about this aircraft is that it belongs to the pre-merger Indian Airlines, and is equipped with a double bogie main landing gear. Indian Airlines’ first set of Airbus A320s delivered in the early 1990s all sported double bogie main landing gears, designed to handle the “not so perfect” airfield conditions in India at the time.

A few months later, Air India painted one of its Boeing 777-300ERs, VT-ALJ titled “Bihar” in the alliance’s colours. VT-ALJ was Air India’s first Boeing 777-300ER, delivered to the airline in 2007. Also, this was Air India’s first wide-body aircraft to be painted in the Star Alliance livery.

“Bihar” seen here on short final to Runway 27 at BOM on a dull, rainy day.

VT-ALJ-VM

Air India Boeing 777-300ER VT-ALJ “Bihar” in Star Alliance colours

Again in April 2015, Air India took delivery of a brand new Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, VT-ANU factory-painted in the Star Alliance colours. This was the world’s first 787 Dreamliner to be painted in an alliance special livery.

Here is VT-ANU turning on to taxiway N1 at BOM for a morning departure.

Two year later, VT-ANU remains the only Boeing 787 Dreamliner to be painted in the colours of an airline alliance.

As of now, these are the only three aircraft in the Air India fleet sporting the Star Alliance colours.

As Air India starts phasing out its classic Indian Airlines era Airbus A320s and inducting brand new Airbus A320 NEOs, it is likely that one of these aircraft would be painted in the Star livery.

 

 

Juneyao Airlines joins Star Alliance as a Connecting Partner

May 23 2017 – Juneyao Airlines today became the first airline to join the Star Alliance network as a “Connecting Partner”. Juneyao Airlines is a major Chinese airline based in Shanghai, and operates to both international and domestic destinations.

Juneyao A320

Connecting Partner is a brand new concept adopted by the world’s largest airline alliance, and this partnership will offer Star Alliance passengers opportunities to transfer through Shanghai’s two airports – Pudong International (PVG/ZSPD) and Hongqiao International (SHA/ZSSS) on the Juneyao Airlines network.

This partnership will also allow passengers travelling on Star Alliance carriers through check-in facility in both directions on Juneyao Airlines flights. Additionally, all qualifying Star Alliance Gold Status passengers will be provided the same privileges on their Juneyao Airlines connecting flights as they currently enjoy on the Star Alliance network.

These include:

• Lounge Access

• Fast Track Security

• Additional Baggage

• Priority Check-in

• Priority Boarding

• Priority Standby

• Priority Baggage Delivery

At present, 17 out of 27 airlines in the Star Alliance group operate more than 1600 weekly flights to various cities in China. Juneyao Airlines now offers Star Alliance passengers the option of connecting to more than 1,700 weekly flights to 69 destinations in eight countries and regions through Shanghai. This partnership is therefore a win-win proposition for both Juneyao Airlines and Star Alliance.

Currently, Air China and Shenzhen Airlines are two Chinese carriers that are full members of Star Alliance.

Juneyao Airlines has a fleet of 62 aircraft consisting of Airbus A320 & A321 narrow-body planes.