NEW DELHI: A question mark hangs over whether the Maharaja’s “queen of the skies” — his four Boeing 747 jumbo jets — will fly passengers again. The nearly three decade old aircraft have been de-registered by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
Comments from sought from AI on the future of these planes — whether they will fly again or be retired — were sought from AI and awaited till the time of going to press.
“The four B747s of AI have been de-registered,” said senior DGCA officials. They add if and when AI plans to use them again for commercial flights, it will have to undergo a return to service program leading to the re-registration of the aircraft.
Given the age of these planes and shortage of spares, it remains to be seen if AI jumbo jets fly passengers again.
Till about two years ago fly top Indian dignitaries, president, PM and VP, used to fly the jumbo on medium to long haul flights. It used to fly one-stop to the Americas. The jumbos were used for regular passenger flights and get their seating reconfigured when being taken out for VVIP flights.
This duty ended when two refurbished B777s were inducted as dedicated VVIP aircraft about two years ago. These state-of-the-art planes with most sophisticated security and communication systems can fly direct to almost anywhere in the world, with no need for a stop while flying to the Americas.
Given the hit to air traffic delivered by the pandemic and then the subsequent rise in jet fuel prices due to Russia’s war on Ukraine, four-engine planes like the B747 have become financially unviable for airlines. They find twin engines like the Boeing 777/787 and Airbus A330/350 more viable.
Moreover these planes have a great range too and operate some of the longest nonstops in them world like Singapore-New York and Delhi-San Francisco.
The first B747, named Emperor Ashoka, had joined AI fleet in 1971. With the 747s, AI under JRD Tata had set new levels of inflight luxury. It introduced a new “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.
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.