From selling its first passenger aircraft to India way back in 1974, leading European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has come a long way with nearly 200 of its aircraft being in service today in India which has also emerged as the seventh biggest operator of Airbus planes worldwide. Leading the pack is the best seller single-aisle aircraft from Airbus — the A320 for which the erstwhile state-owned Indian Airlines was the launch customer in 1989 and now low-cost private operators — IndiGo and GoAir — have become the largest fleet operators of A320 airliners.

Confident of its future potential, Airbus is also launching a fuel-efficient, advanced version of A-320, called the NEO (New Engine Option) equipped with bigger wingtips ‘sharklets'. Airbus has already received nearly 1100 firm orders from 22 customers worldwide for the newer A320 version. Among the Indian operators, IndiGo and GoAir, have placed orders for A320 (NEO) which will result in 15 per cent fuel burn reduction translating into fuel savings of nearly $2 million a year for airlines.

The A320 has turned out to be the flagship aircraft from the European consortium and is the world's best-selling aircraft with 7,926 firm orders, 4,700 deliveries and a backlog of 2,900 aircraft, Joost Van Der Heijden who heads airline marketing in India and Southeast Asia, told a group of visiting Indian journalists at Airbus headquarters here.

IndiGo, India's largest low-cost carrier which has recently launched its international flights, will be the launch customer for A-320 NEO which would be delivered to it from 2016. The new version will also result in reduction of emissions and lower engine noise. While IndiGo has ordered 150 NEOs, GoAir has placed an order for 72 of such aircraft.

“We are confident of delivering A320 NEOs on time. We are also increasing the production to meet the surge in demand,'' Joaquin Toro-Prieo, marketing director, A320 family of aircraft, said. The production of A320 is being increased from the current 34 aircraft a month to 42 a month from 2012 onwards.

Sounding upbeat about the Indian market, Kiran Rao, Airbus Vice-President (Sales and Marketing), said the consortium valued its long-term cooperation with India where the civil aviation sector poised to grow at 8 eight per cent annually over the next decade or so.

By 2028, Airbus estimates that Indian carries would need some 1,000 new aircraft, including 60 of the size of A380s, to meet the passenger and freight demand.

Mr. Rao, who also heads Airbus India, said that while A320 had been a favourite of Indian carriers in the single-aisle 180-seat segment, A-330-300 has emerged as a preferred choice in the double-aisle segment which can carry 300 passengers. However, the A380 has not figured in discussions with any other airline from India. Though A-380 has been operating on top 15 airports across the world, Delhi and Mumbai have remained untouched by the operations of the superjumbo, the world's largest passenger aircraft.

On the contentious issue of the proposed Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility which was part of a deal with Air India, he said that it was very much on the cards. “We made a lot of promises when we did the deal. The MRO was one of them. We promised training centre and engineering centres, both of which are up and running. We continue to work with Air India towards developing a joint business plan for an MRO in India. The MRO will definitely come up,'' Mr. Rao added.

Echoing similar sentiments, Srinivasan Dwarkanath, Vice-President, International Cooperation, said that Airbus was increasing its footprint outside Europe and had set up subsidiaries in Tunisia, Romania and China. In India, the training centre and the engineering centre in Bangalore were also being expanded. “Airbus is sourcing different products from India which together account for nearly euro 150 million a year.,'' he added.

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