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To America, on an Andhra
- Planes in Air India’s new fleet to take names of states

New Delhi, July 28: Air India’s first two Boeing 777-200 long-range planes, unveiled today, will be called Andhra Pradesh and Assam.

If in the past the airline named its planes after emperors or landmarks, the new fleet will take the names of the states, the Union territories and then the cities of India — in alphabetical order.

Assam, third on the alphabetical list behind Arunachal Pradesh, jumped the queue one place today. It can’t be a coincidence that the state is represented in the Rajya Sabha by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who inaugurated the spanking new aircraft that will fly non-stop to the US.

“Our national carriers were unable to take full advantage of the opportunities at hand for a variety of reasons,” Singh said. “The shortage of aircraft was one such and our government has taken decisive steps to address this problem.”

Sixty-eight Boeing jetliners have been ordered, for an estimated Rs 35,000 crore. Of these, 25 will be delivered in this fiscal year.

So West Bengal, which comes at the bottom of the alphabetical list of states, will have to wait till the next fiscal for a plane in its name. Or chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee could drop the West and allow the state to call itself simply Bengal, sending it flying to the front of the queue.

With the cities coming only after all the states and Union territories are done, Calcutta, Mumbai and Delhi will probably get aircraft named after them in the next decade.

Twenty-three 777s, including eight 777-200LR Worldliners — of which two have arrived — and 15 777-300ERs, and 27 787-8 Dreamliners are among the 68 planes ordered. Air India Express, a wholly owned subsidiary of Air India, has ordered 18 737-800s.

Indian Airlines, which is being merged with Air India, has ordered another 43 Airbuses.

But even this number might be too few as the state-run airline tries to cope with the boom in Indian aviation. Traffic out of India is expanding at 25 per cent and Air India estimates it may need another 60 planes by 2011.

“Looking at the demand and the passenger growth, the number would be in the range of 60 planes. But this is a very rough estimate,” Air India chairman V. Thulasidas said.

Civil aviation minister Praful Patel said his ministry would revisit aircraft acquisition plans in a fortnight and the process of identifying new aircraft would then start.

Top officials said the airline would be looking for a nod from the Prime Minister and the Planning Commission for the new purchases. Bureaucratic bottlenecks kept the two state-run carriers from buying new aircraft since the 1990s, causing them to lose market share.

Air India entered the jet age 47 years ago, in 1960, when its first Boeing 707 — named Nandadevi — started services between New York and London. Planes bought in that decade were all named after landmarks.

Exactly 10 years later, the airline got its first Boeing 747-200 — Ashoka. Aircraft bought in this round were named after famous emperors.

All the aircraft being bought now will be painted in a livery of red and ivory colours, and the tail will have a flying swan with the Konark Chakra placed inside it — the logo of the airline born after the merger of Air India and Indian. Orange and red speed lines will run parallel from the front door to the rear door, signifying the merger.

Officials said eventually the older aircraft, too, will be painted in the new colours.

The fleet’s interiors are changing too, with television sets for every passenger, new seats and new overhead compartments. And the flight attendants will have a new wardrobe — designed by Pierre Cardin and Ritu Beri.

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