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Air-India okays fleet expansion

Mumbai, Sept. 18: Air-India today said its board has approved a plan to acquire 17 long-range aircraft over a five-year period from April 2003-08. The acquisition would include both 400-plus and 250-plus seaters.

This is the largest acquisition planned by the state-run carrier and comes at a time when the aviation industry continues to pass through tough times post the 9/11 attacks on the US. The airline will soon invite bids from both Boeing and Airbus.

Announcing details of the board meeting today, a spokesperson for the airline said it has additionally set up a technical committee to finalise short haul aircraft of 160-plus seating capacity for international operations. A committee headed by operations director M. K. Hathi has been set up to evolve ground rules for induction of long-range aircraft and recommend the aircraft type for acquisition.

At its meeting today, the board approved the recommendation of a three-member expert committee for a combination of 17 long-range and short-range aircraft, even as the directors were for a three class lay-out as against the panelís suggestion of a two class lay-out.

The board also suggested that while short-listing the long-range aircraft, at least 50 per cent of such aircraft should have 250 seats, which could fly non-stop to the US. The previous large acquisition planned by Air-India was in 1993 of six Boeing aircraft.

Airline observers feel that the 400-plus seater could be the Airbus A380, the double-decker aircraft with 555 seats due for commercial operations in 2005, or the Boeing 747-400.

The spokesperson added that induction of long-range aircraft would be only after a period of three years as the airline had signed a lease for a Boeing 747-400 of which the airline has six such aircraft.

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