How many times have you entered a plane that smells factory fresh? Have you then wondered how the plane reaches India? Does it get registered like a car? Questions! Questions!
Taking delivery of an aircraft from the manufacturer is an elaborate process. It starts with a team of airline executives being present at the manufacturer site a few days in advance. With airlines in India having large order books, the teams from India have become a regular feature at Boeing as well as Airbus delivery centres.
The team generally comprises the pilots who will fly the planes to India along with engineers who perform the necessary checks before signing off the aircraft being fit for the ride to India.
One of the first things that the teams do is a ground check. This includes inspecting the aircraft on the ground and ensuring that the cabin interiors are as per the specifications. While prima facie, these tasks appear mundane and one may think how would interiors not be as per specifications, there is a whole lot of tracking and mapping that goes into these checks. The list of serialised parts, certification documents, product improvements, component handbooks, warranty paperwork and spare parts are some of the things that are checked.
When this is done, it’s time for the all-important acceptance flight. The aircraft typically does a flight or two before the acceptance flight. But this is the flight where the airline crew is onboard where engine performance, fuel indicators, flow of fuel from one fuel tank to another, flaps, slats cruise and climb performance are re-checked in the presence of airline pilots before landing back.
The culmination of the acceptance flight leads to the technical acceptance. The technical teams, which are the senior engineering personnel of the airline, review the functional test results, identifying deviations between as-built and as-designed configurations, snag review and the entire documentation control. This is followed by another round of inspection of airframe, engine, components and accessories to identify any undocumented problems or future concerns which could get the airline in trouble with insurance companies later.
The formality of Transfer of Title is completed before the delivery flight can take off. The aircraft is registered in the home country (USA in case of Boeing, Germany or France in case of Airbus, typically) and the manufacturer is the owner of the aircraft. The title is transferred either to the airline if the aircraft is owned by the airline or to the lessor if the airline has done a sale and leaseback transaction. The lease documents are signed and a copy is sent with the aircraft, which remains with the airline for customs clearance and future legal requirements.
Some Indian Customs
The aircraft takes off for a multi-stop or a non-stop flight to India, and more often than not, the airline plans the delivery flight to Delhi, where the airline teams meet their newest baby with much fanfare. Most Indian airlines opt for a traditional puja and some like Kingfisher Airlines in the past have taken each aircraft to Tirupati for the blessings of Lord Balaji. When Kingfisher couldn’t land its A330s at Tirupati because of the absence of a long enough runway for the A330s, it flew the aircraft over the temple.
The aircraft is an import and the permission to import such an aircraft is given to the airline by aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) while the rules are drafted by Director General of Foreign Trade under the aegis of the ministry of commerce. Customs clearance involves getting a certificate after all levies have been paid.
DGCA is also the nodal agency for registering aircraft in India and ergo, is authorised to conduct a physical inspection of the aircraft before it can issue a Certificate of Registration (C of R) and Certificate of Airworthiness (C of A). The C of R is handed out after the DGCA is presented with customs clearance, de-registration of the previous registration and the lease agreement. The registration has a pre-fix “VT” in the case of India and a three-alphabet registration, which an airline reserves in advance. The C of A is valid for a specified period and requires renewal with inspection from authorities.
The ops specs, which include the navigation equipment, eligibility for ETOPS, etc., are then issued. When this is done, an airline has officially added another plane to its fleet and the aircraft is ready for commercial operations.
Do all airlines do this? Not necessary. Airlines like IndiGo consider the trip to Airbus delivery center as overhead and have contracted Airbus to deliver the aircraft at Delhi, from where the airline takes over with the process in India. So the next time you enter a new aircraft, you know the process it went through just before it started commercial operations.
You are welcome!
Ameya Joshi is the founder of aviation analysis blog NetworkThoughts.