Airbus and India
The Airbus story in India began in 1976, when Indian Airlines became the first operator of the A300 B2 in Asia and this start has continued over the next four decades with hundreds of various Airbus models, notably the A320, flying in various colours throughout the subcontinent and on regional international routes.
The Airbus story in India began in 1976, with delivery of three A300(B2)s to Indian Airlines – the first domestic airline customer for the type. The A300, and later the A310, were the aircraft that cemented the then-fledgling Airbus Industrie’s reputation as a major manufacturer of aircraft, paving the way for the Company’s modern successes such as the A330, A320, A380 and A350. Hundreds of A300/A310s remain in service today, and Airbus projects that some 200 will still be operational around the world in 2025, more than half a century after the first A300 prototype took the air!
The very next Airbus product, the revolutionary fly- by- wire A320, saw similarly enthusiastic acceptance in Indian skies, and indeed has become something of a ubiquitous presence in the subcontinent. Once again, Indian Airlines was the first customer, taking delivery in 1989 but it was the economic liberalisation of the 1990s that laid the groundwork for the A320’s runaway success in the Indian market. Nearly every new mainline airline established in the 2000s – from low-cost carriers Deccan, GoAir and Indigo, to full-service Kingfisher – adopted the A320 for their narrowbody needs. Later entrants to the market, AirAsia India and Vistara, also selected the A320 for their single-type fleets.
By the mid-2000s, the widebody A330 also began to receive some attention in India, and the A330-200 entered service with Jet Airways in April 2007. In December 2012, Jet received its first A330-300s, and put it into service on the Mumbai-Brussels route later that same month. Air India also briefly
operated leased examples of the type, but Jet was and remains the only long-term owner and operator of the A330 in India.
The advent of ‘sharklet’ blended winglets for the A320 in place of the older wingtip fences, along with announcement of the reengined ‘new engine option’ (neo), brought about something of an A320 resurgence not just in India but also the world. In 2011, when IndiGo was the fastest-growing carrier in India and soon to be the largest by market share, the airline placed a mammoth 180-aircraft order for 150 A320neo and 30 A320ceo. This was followed by a 72-aircraft order from GoAir in June that year.
In June 2014, new entrant AirAsia India, a joint venture of Malaysia’s AirAsia Berhad, Tata Sons and Telestra Tradeplace, commenced operations in India, flying the A320. In January the next year, another Tata Sons joint venture, this time a full-service carrier called Vistara, in collaboration with Singapore Airlines (SIA), took to the skies, again exclusively on the A320.
Independence Day 2015 brought more headlines, with IndiGo confirming a 250-aircraft for the A320neo – the largest order by number in Airbus history. The airline became the first neo operator in India in March 2016, and is the world’s largest operator of the new type, with over 20 currently in service.
GoAir followed IndiGo, taking delivery of its first A320neo in June 2016. The airline announced its intention to add another 72 neos to its fleet at the Farnborough Air Show in 2016, and firmed up this commitment in January 2017, taking their cumulative order book to 144 A320neos. In February 2017, Air India joined the ranks of Indian A320neo operators, with the first of fourteen leased CFM International LEAP-1A-powered A320neos arriving at New Delhi.
‘Working in India’
Airbus’ industrial cooperation with India began in the 1980s when an agreement was reached with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to manufacture forward passenger doors for the A320. HAL now produces half of all A320 forward passenger doors. In addition, Airbus’ list of Indian partners and suppliers has expanded to encompass engineering, IT services, technical publications, research and technology and manufacturing of aerostructures, detail parts and sub-assemblies. More than 5,000 professionals nationwide contribute directly or indirectly to all Airbus aircraft programmes.
Airbus India Engineering, for example, specialises in high- tech aeronautical engineering, with 350-plus Indian engineers working hand-in-hand with other Airbus offices around the world, as well as with the Indian aerospace industry. The Bangalorebased centre focuses on development of advanced capabilities in the areas of modelling and simulation, embedded systems software, systems installation, digital mock- up, structural analysis, materials and properties, loads and weight estimations, system testing, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), as well as process, methods and tools – with impact on a range of aircraft programmes such as the A380, A350 XWB and A320neo.
Airbus has a similarly broad training and support footprint in the country, and Airbus Training India (ATI) in Bangalore has provided maintenance training to more than 2,250 people from airlines in India and neighbouring countries. An Airbus preferred pilot training centre was established in the national capital region in cooperation with CAE and Interglobe in 2013, and a dedicated Airbus Training Centre is under construction near Delhi’s international airport, intended to be operational by end-2018. Airbus’ enhanced customer support network from India covers India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives. Customers in India are supported from two hubs in Mumbai and Delhi.
Vistara has ambitious growth plans that could see Airbus further increase its footprint in the subcontinent