Air India will exit the main-deck freight business

Air India, which last week put its four A310-300Fs up for sale, now says its six 737-200Fs will go up on the auction block as well.

When Air India (the state-owned international carrier) was merged with Indian Airlines (the state-owned domestic carrier) the new entity launched a move into the main-deck freight business with the conversion of six 737-200s and four A310-300s to freighter configuration. The plan was to use the A310s in international service to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, while the 737s would operate in domestic service from a dedicated cargo hub at Nagpur.

Given that India was underserved in terms of air freight, that demand was booming, and that the new operation was essentially underwritten by the government, this appeared to be as close to a guaranteed success as any freight operation ever could be. But it has consistently failed. The A310-300Fs were flown to various destinations at various times, but the carrier seemed unable to find a way to put them into a reliable long-haul network. Some of the 737-200Fs were leased to India Post and GATI, but the Nagpur-based regional network never materialized. At least, not for Air India — privately-owned competitor Deccan 360 has been operating out of Nagpur for a year now, and is gradually expanding.

An Air India executive has been widely quoted in the Indian media as
saying: “We are looking at selling out our six Boeing 737-200 freighters, as the plan to have a dedicated cargo business through a subsidiary is unlikely to take off now.”

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