The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had this April deregistered the Maharaja’s last remaining four queen of the skies. If and when AI plans to use them again for commercial flights, it will have to undergo a return to service program leading to their re-registration.
So technically AI can use these nearly 30-year-old planes again after going through this process. But given their age, shortage of spares, condition of cabin and most importantly investment required, it remains to be seen if that happens.
Comments were sought from AI on the issue and the response is awaited.
The airline got its first jumbo jet, named Emperor Ashoka, in 1971. With the 747s, AI under JRD Tata had set new levels of inflight luxury. It had introduced a special “Palace in the Sky” livery and for this aircraft. The tastefully decorated staircase to the upper deck; jharokha flight panels; dewans and bar were way ahead of their time when introduced onboard these beautiful machines in the 1970 by JRD himself.
For about two years, the B747s used to fly the president, VP and PM on medium to long haul international trips. They could not fly to the Americas direct and used to take a halt in Europe, mostly Frankfurt. Then India got two state-of-the-art Boeing 777s — which unlike the jumbos that used to do both VVIP and regular flights will be dedicated for dignitaries — which can fly nonstop to virtually anywhere on the planet to and from India.
Once the VVIP duty ended, there was little use for the four-engine double deckers specially after fuel prices began skyrocketing. They mainly flew till 2021, exactly 50 years. The last high-profile assignment carried out by these curvaceous beauties was flying from Delhi to Wuhan in early 2020 to bring back Indian students from the epicentre of Covid.
“The 747 will remain AI’s signature product, something overseen directly by JRD. The Tatas are back at AI as owners, hope they can recreate the magic with the fleet revamp plans being worked out,” said a senior pilot. The revamped AI website shows these planes as part of its fleet — single aisle Airbus A320 family (319, 320 and 321) and wide body B777 and B787s.
AI could remain the only commercial Indian airline ever to operate four-engine, double decker aircraft. Vijay Mallya had ordered the four-engine Airbus A340s for Kingfisher, but could never induct them in the fleet before the airline shut down in 2012.