Baffling: Air India schedules Delhi – Washington DC on Boeing 787-8 Aircraft, pushing its limits

Air India operates a 3x weekly Boeing 777-300ER service between Delhi – Washington DC. This service was launched in 2017 and continues to operate three times a week with a Boeing 777-300ER. From a very close relative who recently travelled on this rotation AI103/AI104, the flight clocked a decent load, although it was not full.

Air India has, however, in a baffling move, started to display that from January 8, 2020, onwards, a Dreamliner will make the Delhi – Washington DC operation. Like you can see below, the January 5, 2020 flight is showing to be operated by a 77W on the Air India website and the GDS systems.

However, the next flight on January 8, 2020, shows up to be operated by a Dreamliner.

The same information is on various travel booking websites as well.

Here is where this becomes baffling. Air India was one of the first operators of the Boeing 787 when the aircraft entered service in 2012. Which also means Air India has some early airframes which were heavier as compared to the usual 787s which are delivered now, compromising their range/payload a bit. As per Boeing, the 787-8 can operate a maximum range of 7305 nautical miles (13,530 km) with 248 passengers in a two-class configuration.

Air India has a 256 passenger configuration, and as per Air India’s website, the aircraft, with a full payload (Cargo and passengers), would be able to fly 5100 nautical miles (9445 kilometres).

However, Air India flies these aircraft between Delhi and Sydney all the time, which is about 5627 nautical miles (10422 km), and perhaps the longest route flown for Air India with the 787-8s. 

The flight between Delhi and Washington DC, on the other hand, is 6523 nautical miles (12080 km) as the crow flies, which is another 900 nautical miles beyond the longest 787-8 route that Air India flies at the moment.

Factoring in the fact that some of the later 787s can deliver the range, Air India will then be scheduled flights on a regular basis on the back of an aircraft which won’t be flying with cargo perhaps, and still will be pushing the edge of the range envelope for the aircraft.

Curiously, the website of the airline continues to state that the aircraft operating this flight pair is a Boeing 77W.

Bottomline

This could be a mistake, or Air India is really up to something. Especially with headwinds in the winter weather, this looks like an idea that pushes it. Airlines have to carry reserve fuel, and I would imagine in this case the aircraft would operate with a few seats blocked off to make sure they can make it that far.

What do you make of Air India’s intentions to fly a Boeing 787-8 between Washington DC and Delhi?

(with additional reporting by Karan Patel)

Comments

  1. Even though there is no clear understanding how the 787-8 will operate non-stop from India to the US, there are air frames which were delivered to the airline at a much later stage compared to the initial models and these have a capacity to fly non-stop (even though it’ll be pushing the limits).

    Also, I can understand why AI would want to be plying this route on a lesser capacity aircraft:

    Take a look at these passenger statistics from Jan-Mar 2019 and Apr-Jun 2019:

    Jan-Mar:
    City1 City2 Pax to City 2 Pax from City 2
    CHICAGO DELHI 19816 23816
    NEW YORK DELHI 22404 25242
    NEWARK DELHI 22509 24272
    NEW YORK MUMBAI 4918 9101
    NEWARK MUMBAI 43251 50606
    SAN FRANCISCO DELHI 20385 23585
    WASHINGTON DELHI 7760 10803

    Apr-Jun:
    City1 City2 Pax to City 2 Pax from City 2
    CHICAGO DELHI 20486 25462
    NEW YORK DELHI 22696 24529
    NEWARK DELHI 3051 5283
    NEW YORK MUMBAI 933 2948
    NEWARK MUMBAI 43685 49081
    SAN FRANCISCO DELHI 21801 24458
    WASHINGTON DELHI 8513 8791

    Source: http://dgca.nic.in/reports/Traffic-ind.htm

    Quite clearly from the above data, we can see that the traffic between IAD-DEL is not as high as some of the other India-US non-stops.

    Logically therefore, I can understand why AI would want to use a lesser capacity aircraft for this purpose.

  2. Is there much difference between the ranges of the 787-8 and the 787-9? Qantas use the latter on their LHR-PER route and that’s go to be close to the limit?

    Maybe Air India should have gotten some 787-9s and replaced the 777s where demand does not warrant them.

  3. Ajay, though you are basically correct, we all have to be cautious about trying to estimate the viability of an aircraft for a specific route without having the proper technical/operations training. Typically the advertised range that Boeing or Airbus provide are based on ideal conditions and are for marketing purposes.

    Just to state two examples, headwinds and high elevation of the departure airport are two obvious factors that would reduce range. Often flights will avoid high elevation areas and war zones as well. Then there are country-specific restrictions on airspace use.

    I have heard that even on the Australia flights, Air India earlier had to offload baggage on some full flights, which annoyed passengers. Perhaps they are blocking more seats now.

    For these longer routes, the real mystery is why AI was never allowed to order the 787-9.

    The 787-8 is however fine for Europe, East Asia, Africa from India.

  4. It’s happening for sure. with the loads on the route, let’s say 200 pax, it is not economical to fly the 777. They can fly the route with a 787 with 200 pax. The 777 will be used to fly another rotation on DELHI London I believe.

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