Air India Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner line number 35 test registered N1015 (later became VT-ANH) at the India Aviation show, Hyderabad March 2012. Photo copyright Devesh Agarwal.
Air India Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner line number 35 test registered N1015 (later became VT-ANH) at the India Aviation show, Hyderabad March 2012. Photo copyright Devesh Agarwal.

Air India’s abysmal performance, 256 seat 787 flying with just 50 passengers

Update: Jan 13, 2014

It has been suggested that the number of 50 passengers, referred to in the article, could be the number of passengers that were off-loaded due to one door being declared non-operational, which was required the lack of one cabin crew member. On Air India’s 787 with eight doors, a complement of nine cabin crew is needed. One head and eight members, one for each door. Part of an aircraft’s certification is the timely evacuation of all passengers through available exits. A non-operational door would necessitate a reduction in the number of passengers carried if the flight was full.

Prior to publishing this story, we attempted to contact Air India’s spokesperson both by phone and by e-mail, to clarify the situation. No response has been received till today (Jan 13, 2014). If the flight was full and the passengers were reduced by 50, our deepest apologies to the airline for our misunderstanding.

While the establishment in both the civil aviation ministry and national carrier Air India continue to blow sunshine in our faces, and was eloquent about the “great recovery” by the airline, a story in The Hindustan Times newspaper shows how abysmal is the airline’s actual performance.

The story headlines “Crew shortage holds up AI flight at Frankfurt” but the actual nugget of information lies as the report commences

“About 50 Air India passengers bound from Delhi were held up at the Frankfurt airport on Monday because the aircraft was short on cabin crew.”

The Air India Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner which operates on this route seats 256 passengers, 18 in business class and 236 in economy class. With only 50 passengers, the load factor works out to less than 20 per cent. By any measure, this is an abysmally low number. Even with a more fuel efficient Dreamliner, an airline spends as much as 40 per cent of its operating costs as fuel. With margins in the two and three per cent range, there is no way this flight even recovered its fuel costs. The airline’s spokesperson did not respond to my repeated attempts to clarify the situation.

This pathetic performance is further magnified when you consider that the first week of January is about the highest peak in demand for the year, when most overseas Indians return back and Indian business travellers commence their overseas trips when their business partners return after the Christmas-New Year break.

The report goes on to state that the commander of the flight was benched for flying with one short crew member. In my humble opinion, it is the line management of the airline that should be benched for allowing a flight to operate with such poor passenger load factors. With such pathetic numbers, Air India should consider code-sharing with Lufthansa, and utilising their Dreamliner on a more profitable route, assuming there are any.

Share your thoughts via a comment.

Read the original Hindustan Times story here.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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6 comments

  1. As an ardent Air India fan, this really breaks my heart and shatters it into several pieces. The management has let down this airline for decades, with no repentance or passion in-sight. God speed AI

  2. Sanket Chatterjee

    This shows how incapable we are to run a national airline efficiently. Despite having some of the best brains in the world, we cannot manage an airline!!! With the current scenario, it won’t be long before it will be privatized. How can the Govt. be so complacent about such an important issue? National airline correlates to international reputation which is definitely going down the drain.

  3. I am not sure about the Indian authorities, but most regulations would allow a flight back with one cabin crew missing provided the 50 passengers per crew ratio is maintained. At the end of the day it does not matter what type equipment you fly if you can not fill the aircraft and maintain a breakeven LF. It did not work with the B777 I don’t see why it should with a B787.
    As for the notion of privatizing AI, I don’t think anyone will touch it with the amount of debt it has, the number of employees and finally the rampant political interference. The government needs to effectively address these issues, good luck with that.

  4. AI has no sense of providing connectivity outside India. There are no perfect East west schedules except the Bangkok – London. There are lot of other schedules possible with slight adjustment in time or alternating schedules from BOM like they do with BKK. With lot of entry point airports in India, they can make very good alternating schedules to support Delhi as Hub for international East – West Connections. Singapore – US East Coast is very good opportunity given the lack of direct flights from Singapore to US East Coast. Jakarta is one destination that can be connected to the US and Europe flights. Current operations are clearly worrying sign given the way they let the public money go in to a Sink.

  5. Arguably, this is just one flight on one day. A route’s profitability is addressed on an annual basis. I’ve been on a QR 77W from Doha to IAD with only 30 other passengers onboard as company, yet that route is overall a money spinner for QR. From what I’ve read, the airline has reported that revenue on FRA and CDG with the 787 is meeting operational costs. Of course, that could just be AI being AI. They also think that the rapidly deteriorating soft product in their international J Class is “world class” (or whatever term of art they bandy around), but in fact, it’s several notches below Premium Economy on some other carriers.

  6. Thanks for the suggestion Amit. I did attempt to contact AI prior to writing the piece. I have put in an information box at the top of the story clarifying our actions prior to publishing the story. I have even included an apology in advance if my inference was wrong. I hope this will lend balance and perspective to my opinion piece.