The grounding of Air India's Boeing 787 fleet will impact its operations. The airline may have to combine its flights to keep the schedule intact. The 787 fleet was grounded following the US Federal Aviation Administration emergency air worthiness directive on Wednesday which 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 787 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 decision to induct them will hinge on how the plane maker addresses the safety concerns. Air India has 27 such 787 on order.
Air India has about 80 pilots who are trained to fly the Boeing 787. With the Boeing 787 grounded the airline will have to deploy Boeing 777s on Frankfurt and Paris routes and airbus A320 for its domestic flights. The pilots from 787 fleet can not be utilised to fly an another aircraft type unless they undergo refresher course (simulator training and route checks) for the particular plane (Boeing 777 for instance).
The airline is deploying a Boeing 747-400 plane on Delhi-Dubai route and is clubbing the Paris and Frankfurt using a Boeing 777 on Thursday. 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 again deploy the Boieng 777 on those routes again. We may have to combine some flights over next few days because non availability of adequate number of trained Boeing 777 captains,'' an airline source said. The airline has around 300 pilots who are trained to operate its 20 Boeing 777s. Of them about 15-17 of them are in active operations and rest under maintenance. " We are expecting further guidelines from the FAA and DGCA. We will have to carry inspections based on the directive,'' the Air India source added.
FAA issued the emergency directives following two incidents involving a lithium ion battery 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, the 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.