Several aircraft types have become synonymous with Air India’s international fleet over the years. Back in the 1960s, the Boeing 707 did quite a bit of heavy lifting of the airline’s long-haul routes. Then came the 747s, the A300s, and today, it’s the 777s and 787s that the carrier relies on for most of its international flying.
Air India flew two Lockheed TriStar L-1011 jets in the mid-90s. Photo: Torsten Maiwald via Wikimedia Commons
However, Air India’s fleet has often been peppered with short stints of other widebodies, which quietly entered operations and left just as quietly. One of them was the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar.
Although the TriStars flew for Air India in the 1990s, the carrier almost made a deal with Lockheed in the early 80s for the three-engine jets. In 1980, Air India had started looking for other options to phase out its older 707s. Boeing 747SP, the TriStar L-1011-500, the DC 10, and the Airbus A300 were all considered, but the TriStar was the front-runner.
According to a 1981 report published by India Today, Air India even issued a letter of intent for the estimated $200 million deal for three L-1011s with the option of purchasing three more. However, the carrier’s decision to put its faith in the TriStar raised quite a few eyebrows at the time.
Air India initially considered the trijet in the early 1980s, but the deal with Lockheed did not materialize. Photo: Felix Goetting via Wikimedia Commons
Lockheed’s TriStar program was already in deep waters by then, with Air Portugal being its last customer in 1979. Lockheed Chairman Roy Anderson himself admitted at the time that a weak market for commercial airliners threatened its TriStar program. Air India also planned to deploy the L-1011s on its Africa routes, which accounted for less than 5% of its international seats. Many saw this as an unwise investment.
Although Lockheed tried padding the deal with an offer to train 30 crew members and position spares at Bombay airport, it did not work out eventually.
In the mid-90s, Air India management had a change of heart and decided to give the trijets a shot. In 1995 – 15 years after the first letter of intent – Air India leased two Lockheed L-1011-500s. Both airplanes were some of the last L-1011s ever built.
With registration numbers V2-LEJ and V2-LEK, the airplanes were leased from Caribjet in 1995. During their very short stay with Air India, the trijets flew to some popular destinations in Europe and were often spotted in Frankfurt, London, Paris, and Amsterdam.
The trijets, however, departed quite swiftly from the carrier’s fleet, with the lease ending after a year.
In 1995, Air India leased two L-1011s from Caribjet, which flew for the airline for a very short while. Photo: G B_NZ via Wikimedia Commons
Where are they now?
Before serving Air India, V2-LEK flew for a few airlines, including the Royal Jordanian and TAP-Air Portugal. After its lease expired, it went back to Caribjet and served other airlines over the next few years, including Novair and Air Luxor. According to Airfleets.net, the plane now rests on the ocean floor as a diving wreck in Aqaba, Jordan.
V2-LEJ, too, went back to Caribjet and had subsequent stints with Air Transat and GlobeJet. Since 2007, it has been stored in Montreal (YUL).
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