Why Air India Isn’t Using Its Boeing 747s For Evacuation Flights

The Indian government is currently engaged in a massive mission to evacuate thousands of its citizens from war-torn Ukraine. ‘Operation Ganga,’ as it’s called, is all about getting as many people as possible back home in a short time frame. One would think Air India’s large 747s would come in pretty handy right about now.

But instead, the Indian flag carrier is using its Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft for all evacuation flights.

IndiGo is using its A321s for the mission, which do not have enough range to make it from Delhi (DEL) to any of Ukraine’s neighboring countries in one trip. As a result, each aircraft has to make a fuel stop in Istanbul (IST) for each leg of the journey. This got us thinking – why isn’t Air India operating the evacuation flights with the Queen of the Skies?

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Why aren’t the 747s pressed into service?

There were approximately 16,000 Indians in Ukraine before the conflict began. Even though more than half have now safely reached home under Operation Ganga of the government, several thousand are still awaiting evacuation. Estimates suggest it will take around 80 flights and until March 10th to bring everyone back. In addition to AI, IndiGo, SpiceJet, Go First, and Vistara have all been contributing to evacuation efforts.


Air India Boeing 747 Getty

The Indian flag carrier currently owns four B747 aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Sources told Moneycontrol there were many reasons for the exclusion of AI 747s from Operation Ganga. The most prominent being maintenance issues and shortage of pilots to fly the jumbo jet.

An official told Moneycontrol,

“As part of Air India’s modernization programme, pilots who used to fly the Boeing 747 planes have been asked to fly the Boeing 787 planes. In order to return back to flying the Boeing 747, they will have to do an extended ground refresher course, a couple of simulators courses, and route checks, all of which will delay rescue operations.”

But that’s not all; other factors like space constraints at Romanian and Polish airports were also mentioned. The Indian authorities are trying hard to evacuate all nationals from Ukraine by ferrying them in buses out of the conflict zone and airlifting them through airports of neighboring countries. To make the process quicker, airports close to the Ukrainian border are being used instead of major international ones.

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Air India still has four 747s

The coronavirus pandemic brought the entire aviation industry to a grinding halt in early 2020. Passenger footfall dropped to record-lows, and as a result, many airlines were seen putting their large old planes into premature retirement. By the end of 2020, major 747 operators like British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic had all retired the Queen of the Skies from passenger operations.


Delhi Airport Air India

B777 and B787 aircraft are now preferred by the airline for international routes. Photo: Getty Images

However, Air India refused to let go of the four remaining examples in its fleet. The Boeing 747 holds a special place in the national carrier’s fleet as it helped cement the airline’s reputation as the “Maharaja” or king. These quad-jets once flew from India to all corners of the world, but in the years leading to the pandemic, they were reduced to operate on high-traffic domestic routes. Newer, more efficient aircraft like the Boeing 777 and 787 were used on international services.

Do you miss seeing Air India B747s in the sky? Let us know what you think in the comments.


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