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A-I plane purchase decision put off

Mumbai, April 12: The Air-India board today put off its much-awaited decision on the selection of 10 medium capacity long range (MCLR) aircraft.

Pitching for the $ 1.5 billion order are the two largest aircraft manufacturers in the world —Boeing and Airbus.

The board members sought seven to 10 days’ time to go through the technical evaluation committee report, which was presented to the members prior to the board meeting, a company spokesman said.

Both Boeing with its 777-200s and Airbus with its A340s are vying for the aircraft deal once again.

The aircraft are to be in a three-class configuration — 12 first class, 28 in business and 247 in economy — making it a total 287 seats, for acquisition over a five-year period beginning this fiscal.

Last year, the Indian Airlines’ board approved an all-Airbus mixed fleet of aircraft consisting of A319s, A321s and A320s worth over $ 2 billion.

“Considering the huge investment that is going to be made over the next five years, the board members sought time to decide on the issue and seek clarifications, if any, from the committee,” public relations director Jitendra Bhargava said while briefing newspersons after the board meeting.

The technical committee, under the chairmanship of Captain M. K. Hathi, operations director, submitted their report today and a decision was expected considering that the MCLR proposal has been hanging fire for quite some time.

Aviation industry experts had widely speculated that the decision on the purchase of aircraft would be taken at today’s meeting.

Air-India has plans to place firm orders for 10 planes with an option to buy another seven. It now has a fleet of 30 planes.

Even after the the board of Air-India takes a decision, it will still have to be ratified by the Union government before the airline can place the order.

The Air-India board also called for fresh bids from the two aircraft manufacturers for their small capacity long range aircraft (SCLR) in the 150-seater category.

Last year, the airline had planned to acquire 10 MCLRs and 18 SCLRs at a cost in excess of $ 3 billion.

The board had earlier proposed to buy Boeing 737-900 and the A321 but with the change in the capacity, the bids would now be called for Boeing 737-800 and A320s.

The spokesman said the board has approved the management’s proposal to extend the dry lease of two A310s, whose three-year agreement would end in December this year and February 2004 respectively.

While the meeting was chaired by civil aviation secretary R. K. Roy Paul, others who were present included V Subramanian, joint secretary in the ministry, Airports Authority of India chairman S. K. Narula and ICICI Bank chairman N. Vaghul.

Indian Airlines chairman and managing director Sunil Arora could not attend today’s meeting.

The A-I board also took stock of the impact of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) on Air-India operations and authorised the management to decide on frequency of operations as per demand.

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