Air India Boeing 777-200LR VT-ALH at Paris CDG airport. Photo copyright Sylvain Muglia. Used under CC license.
Air India Boeing 777-200LR VT-ALH at Paris CDG airport July 24, 2011.
Photo copyright Sylvain Muglia. Used under CC license.

Exclusive photos: Air India strips its newest Boeing 777-200LR

Original story. First published Mar 27, 2014 12:00 IST

Updates are posted at the end of this original article

Financially beleaguered national carrier Air India appears to have resorted to cannibalising its newest Boeing 777-200LR VT-ALH, currently stored at Mumbai airport, to service the remaining five 777-200LR aircraft its fleet, three of which are due to be delivered to gulf carrier Etihad Airways as part of a five aircraft sale deal. (Two 777-200LRs VT-ALA and VT-ALC have already been delivered. Read the story with photos.).

In exclusive pictures obtained by Bangalore Aviation (scroll below), the once mighty and beautiful aircraft sits forlorn in a dilapidated condition, apparently stripped of many parts. These pictures bring back painful memories of the final days of Kingfisher Airlines which cannibalised many of its aircraft to service its remaining fleet. However, unlike Kingfisher, Air India has not even bothered to protect vital components like the cockpit and its wind-shields with silver mylar film. It is indeed a sorry commentary on how the airline is ravaging one of the newest aircraft in its fleet.

Air India Boeing 777-200LR VT-ALH Maharashtra cannibalised at Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji airport
Forlorn lady. Air India Boeing 777-200LR VT-ALH in a dilapidated and stripped condition at Mumbai airport.
Air India Boeing 777-200LR VT-ALH Maharashtra cannibalised at Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji airport
The massive GE90-115B engines stripped. Air India Boeing 777-200LR VT-ALH in a dilapidated and stripped condition at Mumbai airport
Air India Boeing 777-200LR VT-ALH Maharashtra cannibalised at Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji airport
Air India Boeing 777-200LR VT-ALH in a dilapidated and stripped condition at Mumbai airport
Air India Boeing 777-200LR VT-ALH Maharashtra cannibalised at Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji airport
Nose radome missing. Air India Boeing 777-200LR VT-ALH in a dilapidated and stripped condition at Mumbai airport

VT-ALH is the newest Boeing 777-200LR in the airline’s fleet. The brand new aircraft was put in to service by Air India only in September 2009, less than five years ago. The aircraft has been shown as grounded and in “storage” since 2012. Rumours have been circulating that the aircraft suffered damage during a heavy landing at Mumbai. Air India did publish a tender for repair of a LH engine fan cowl on this aircraft back in 2013. There are two more tenders on the Air India website for repairs for a 777 radome and a damaged GE90 engine cowl, but it is unknown whether these are for VT-ALH. It is to be noted, radome damage, normally due to bird hits, are quite common. The buzz in aviation circles say parts from VT-ALH were, and are, being taken to fit and bring to full specification the five 777-200LRs that have been sold to Etihad.

We just cannot fathom why any airline would cannibalise a new aircraft to maintain a fleet of older aircraft. We repeatedly tried to contact the airline by e-mail, phone, and SMS, at the highest levels, for a comment on this story, but have been unsuccessful.

Aircraft and ships are always referred in the feminine gender and appreciated for their beauty. It is painful to see this beautiful lady stripped and left to decay like this. Share your thoughts via a comment.

Update 1 – Mar 28, 2014, 12:30 IST

Air India has responded to our story published below yesterday with a statement.

  1. Repairs of Engine cowling and randome [sic] are carried out as part of routine maintenance.
  2. Engines have been removed to meet aircraft engine combination and will be installed at the appropriate time.
  3. Out of 5 aircraft planned for sale to Ethihad [sic] airlines 3 have been delivered.
  4. Process of delivery of other 2 on the way.
  5. VT ALH is standing outside the hangar in view of the space taken by other aircraft.
  6. This aircraft will be attended after the delivery of the remaining aircraft.

We have requested the airline to re-clarify whether the aircraft, VT-ALH has suffered any damage. From airline tracking databases like planespotters the aircraft has been in storage in Mumbai since May 29, 2012. Planefinder shows the last flight performed by VT-ALH as AI112 from London Heathrow to New Delhi on May 28, 2012.

It is confusing why Air India would choose to ground its newest Boeing 777-200LR while continuing to operate its older LR aircraft. A newer aircraft will naturally have lower operating and maintenance costs. A logical reason would be if there was a problem with the aircraft as indicated by this tweet about a year ago.

The airline spokesperson has indicated that VT-ALB Arunachal Pradesh has also been delivered to Etihad Airways, joining VT-ALA and VT-ALC which were previous delivered as per our earlier report (read here).

Update 2 – Jan 12, 2015

VT-ALH has finally taken to the skies, 31 months after being grounded. (Read the story)

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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  1. Painfully sad. Things like these makes one lose all hopes from Air India management.

  2. Sad. Sometimes you want AI to turnaround because after all the airline carries the name of the country on it. But other times like this article you wonder if the country needs these crooks as mascots. And thank you for highlighting the irony of “Maharashtra”.

    • Just sell the brand to the most competent person, and wind up current operations. I believe TATAs are getting ready to be one the contenders.

  3. M. Azizul Islam

    The only explanation for this madness is that AIC is a government owned entity from the sub-continent. Where it is acceptable to waste away assets that are worth millions. I guess you have to be from the sub continent to understand or even fathom this sort of madness. Sad, really sad and shameful indeed.

  4. A picture is worth a thousand words.

  5. Would it be possible to file a freedom of information act request about the status of ALH. AI being state entity should be compelled to answer or one of the members of parliament can ask the question.

    May be AI stored engines inside as they are missing cowlings. I cannot imagine AI in need to swap engines. But anything is possible.

  6. A once beautiful airline and the airplane..Both sadly in an advanced stage of decay

  7. No comments absolutely so ever. Pity as to how the tax payer’s money flows in the drain. More surprisingly if they needed parts for the aircraft they could have called new instead of dismantling a brand new plane. Not sure how air-worthy this plane would be when it comes in one shape.

  8. Cannibalizing aircraft for spares is nothing new, every airline does it, albeit clandestinely. Spice & Indigo too have aircrafts that are used for cannibalizing.The fact that the 200 & 300 share a lot of commonality makes it a
    lot more worthwhile to use this aircraft (which anyway has issues flying
    profitably) to keep others flying and reduce spare costs. I passed the beleaguered ALH yesterday while taxiing out of Bombay and it appears that this aircraft is not likely to take to the skies again. There seemed to be some bumps on the left underside of the aircraft which looked like either a wing root damage or an undercarriage issue (if you squint hard enough and look closely at Pic 1 & 2 you can see traces of it) . Saw the entire 747 fleet of Air India & two 310 (One in the Aryan Cargo livery), that in my opinion is criminal waste.

  9. The AI maintenance crew has long maintained a certain level of performance & discipline! But who ever has allowed this, to a new aircraft probably needs to be brought to task! Maybe a Right to Information needs to be filed to know the stages of decline of this beauty & the responsible individual for this terminal decline!

  10. I have seen aircraft looking worse than that but beeing repaired and flying again.
    So it could have been possible with the right people in management. The skill
    on the ground is not the problem to fix it… Air India have a lot of very good staff.

  11. Devesh, I praise your diligence in tracking down the status of this neglected aircraft. VT-ANH’s state of limbo has been consternating me for a while now, but there’s virtually no information available about her. I’m hoping she get’s fixed and put back into service, but either way I really just want to know her fate. And if her fate is to be scrapped, hopefully you can bring some publicity and accountability to whoever’s ridiculously poor decision making would have lead to this after a mere 2.5 years of service.

    Also, do you have any info on AI’s five 747-400s? Why aren’t they flying, and what’s the plan for them?

    • Two (VT-EVA, VT-EVB ) of these five are active on Jeddah routes. They were also used for the PM and President travels abroad. Three are to be stored/returned by the end of next year. They keep them for the Hajj travels. But it is unclear why AI leases aircraft (2 or 3 of these are sold and leased back) and keeps them in the hanger. They have been floating tenders for Milan, Rome and Moscow schedules for an year almost on several things. But no sale of tickets to these destinations yet. With two more dreamliners ready to be delivered in this month, I am sure they would be keeping these new aircraft idle till June. At first they were boasting on the industry high daily utilization of dreamliners. Not sure they would bring up these numbers again.

  12. Daniel L. Berek

    It’s always very sad to see an aircraft being stripped for parts; that this plane is so new makes it harder. Understandably, there are many questions (here and on as to why the jetliner could not have been repaired.

    I am also saddened by the remarks about Air India. I am not an expert on the business side, so I cannot offer an opinion, but when I flew AI back in 1990, my experience was very positive. The crew was very professional; the flying was among the best I have experienced. I admit I have a soft spot for Air India and the nation it represents, having lived in Mumbai for two years. I endured one of those 1960s marathon flights back to Europe and the USA on a Boeing 707. It was a long, long trip, but I was treated very well. I hope Air-India gets “back on its feet” soon.

  13. Our own sources at AI refute the claim that it has been “cannibalized”.

    Some parts ordered have not arrived and the aircraft is parked outside for lack of space.

    Kindly verify before posting rumors.

    Its your credibility at stake.

    • A picture is worth a thousand words. No plane intended to fly again is ever stored like this, and talking credibility, I am willing to visit this aircraft right away and do a photo shoot from inside the aircraft and all around.

      I offered to Air India that I will fly to Mumbai. Let AI arrange a proper and unfettered access to the aircraft and let us go and see the aircraft together. But of course, there was no acceptance of this proposal.

      I am comfortable in my credibility which has already ensured this story is carried in mainline newspapers in Mumbai.

    • @cougarrides:disqus, Please be kind enough to share some of your sources. It is very easy to say that sources have said something without naming them. We just have to assume that you are making them up. The only comments you ever seem to post are negative and uninformed ones.

      Also, spare parts do not take 2 years to arrive. No airline would accept such a massive delay. Please do not be just believe any rubbish someone tells you.

    • Your own sources? Do tell.

    • I question the airline, when the official reply from AI cannot even spell radome correctly.

  14. This is just so sad and an absolute embarassment to the Indian people. It is THEIR tax payer money that is going into the destruction of this fine aircraft and financing the graft and greed of Air India’s idiots in management.

    But in all honesty, the state of VT-ALH is an almost living allegory of India as a whole: Once the shining hope of the whole world (There used to be reports a few years ago in American media outlets even that India would be the only country that would provide English-speaking youth to the whole world.) but is now collapsing in on itself due to corruption and inner destruction.

    India, and Air India, need to get their acts together if they want to be viewed as reliable on the world stage. It’s high time this country fixed itself and showed the world what’s capable of.

  15. India became rudderless when its British masters left – only Pakistan is worse – RIP

  16. Air India management is painfully inept and has been for 30 years plus. The bottom line can’t be hidden, unfortunately it reflects on the whole country.

  17. This, in a free market, is the death rattle of a dieing airline

  18. The Indian Government ought to hold the management of Air India accountable for mismanaging the airline. If they can’t do the job, bring in ex pats who can. Air India is trying to play with the big boys in the international markets and just can’t get it done. The Indian Government is pouring money into an unsustainable business and needs to refocus their business model.

  19. Looks like VT-ALS is down for some reason. Its more than a week that I saw this one on radar. I hope it is C check unlike VT-ALH

  20. Sandeep Kashyap

    Well if they felt these planes were of no use to them why didn’t they just sell it long back or lease them to an airline which requires ?. Airlines of Iran are using planes like boeing 727,boeing 747SP which are aged 30+ Years . It’s just sad to see a plane worth millions of dollars rusting in humid and hot temperature of Mumbai 🙁

  21. Davesh, any idea what’s up with VT-ANM? A 10 month old 787 that hasn’t flown in almost two months now. I don’t know what repair could need 2 months on a brand new 787, so I’m wondering if she’s become a parts donor as well.

  22. Ulhas Jukkalkar

    Really painfully sad sad.

  23. chaitatanya Dixit

    What about VT-ALG? and if VT-ALF is in such a horrible condition then why did AI issue a tender for selling the remaining 3 77ls?

  24. simply put, Air India….

  25. Hello,

    is this plane still “stored ” (more like abandonned) in this condition, or did it change as of late.

    Thanks for the article!

  26. Manny Dhaliwal

    Non sense!! I did the same thing at my car lot, bought one late model Camry and fixed 10 to 12 out its parts. Very cost saving, makes financial sense. And to ship parts out of Tuscon or Denver bone yards for 5 planes is cost prohibiting and logistic nightmare.