After a seven-year investigation, India's Central Bureau of Investigation has discontinued its inquiries into alleged irregularities in leasing aircraft at Air India (AI, Delhi International). The probe found there was no evidence of any wrongdoing.

In 2006, Air India dry-leased four B777s for five years when it was already expecting delivery of its own B777s from 2007 onwards. The extra seats at a time when the airline was already experiencing low loads created a capacity glut. Consequently, five B777s and five B737s remained on the ground between 2007 and 2009, costing the airline INR8.4 billion rupees (USD101 million). Investigators alleged the 2006 leases went ahead to benefit "private parties."

The United Progressive Alliance was in government when the lease contracts were signed, and they were finalised by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, then under minister Praful Patel, and the National Aviation Corporation of India Limited (NACIA), an entity established after the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines (Delhi International).

India's Supreme Court tasked the CBI to investigate the matter in 2017 after allegations surfaced that Patel had abused his position. The lease decision was taken "in conspiracy with other unknown persons on extraneous considerations" that resulted in "pecuniary benefit" to private companies and consequent "loss to the government exchequer," the initial allegations said. ch-aviation notes that the authorities have never charged Patel with any offences.

"It [is] alleged that officials of Air India and NACIL, to dishonestly favour private parties, leased 15 expensive aircraft for which the airline did not even have pilots ready," the allegations elaborated. "This was known to the airline's management as well as to the Ministry of Civil Aviation."

The CBI did not provide a reason for its decision to close the investigation. Coincidentally, earlier this year the National Congress Party (Ajit Pawar faction) said it was nominating Patel as its candidate for the Rajya Sabha polls later in 2024.

The CBI filed its closure report during a special court hearing in Delhi on March 19. The court will hear the arguments for closure during an April 15 hearing.