SINGAPORE/MUMBAI: Vistara, the joint venture between Tata Sons Ltd and Singapore Airlines, is set to start long-haul international flights to destinations in Europe and Australia next year, its chief executive said.
Vistara will also look for code-share partnerships with other airlines in the new geographies, Leslie Thng said in an interview on Wednesday.
“We look at our independent network in India as a very big source market. Every destination we fly, we look for a partner. SIA (Singapore Airlines) is a natural partner for South-East Asia and Australia,” Thng said.
“We do have plans to eventually fly to Australia on our own. We are also working on vice-versa codeshare with British Airways (for Europe),” Thng added.
Vistara kicked off its international operations on Tuesday starting with the New Delhi to Singapore route. While the airline will start flying on the Mumbai-Singapore route from Wednesday, it will start Mumbai-Dubai operations from 21 August and Delhi-Bangkok flights from 27 August.
However, the airline will focus on growth in South-East Asia and West Asia during 2019, and look at long-haul flights after receiving its wide body planes next year.
Last July, Vistara ordered 19 planes worth $3.1 billion from Airbus SE and Boeing Co. While it will use Boeing 787 (Dreamliner) planes on long-haul international routes, it will use Airbus A321 planes on medium-haul routes and Airbus A320 planes on short-haul international routes. The planes will be added through a mix of direct orders, leases and options.
Vistara plans to take deliveries of Airbus A321 and Boeing 787 planes during January-March 2020, Thng said, adding the new aircraft will help the airline operate flights to overseas destinations like Europe in the next six to seven months. “For the rights to fly to these destinations, we would need to work with the governments and for the slots with the airport authorities. Getting certain slots would be easier but for certain others, we would need to do a commercial arrangement such as code-sharing agreements,” Thng said.
“For now, we are focusing on our code-share agreements that is Singapore Airlines, British Airways, United Airlines, Japan Airlines. We are looking to put our code into 44 destinations across 10 countries—the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia,” Thng added.
Vistara currently has a fleet of 30 planes, including seven Boeing 737s that were earlier operated by grounded airline Jet Airways. All the planes are on lease of 1-4 years. The airline will add two planes to its fleet each month till December.
Vistara currently uses Boeing 737 planes on its flights to Singapore which it plans to replace with A320 planes from later this year.
Though most of the planes are on lease, Vistara hopes to also own planes, especially wide bodies, in the future. “Vistara so far has no debt but once we have our own aircraft on the balance sheet, we may need some debt. We intend to own Boeing 787s and some of the Airbus A320s. At that time, we will have to see the most economical options,” Thng said.
According to aviation consultancy CAPA India, Vistara is the greatest beneficiary of the exit of Jet Airways. “Provided that Vistara can manage the costs and complexity of everything that it has on its plate, this is a unique opportunity for it to emerge as a leading full service carrier. But it must fast track its financial performance to achieve break-even this year,” CAPA India said in its quarterly markets insight report for April-June 2019.
Jayshree P. Upadhyay is in Singapore as part of the Asian Journalism fellowship organized by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy—Institute of Policy Studies and Temasek Foundation.