Dubai: An airline with immense brand value, India’s Vistara Airlines could be in for an identity makeover. Because its parent company, the Tata Group, has been talking about bringing all the four airlines it owns or has a stake in under the flagship ‘Air India’ label.
The CEO of Vistara Airlines Vinod Kannan will not be drawn into what’s likely to happen, focussed as he is on expanding Vistara’s wings across key international routes. Tata and Singapore Airlines have shareholding in the airline, which since its launch has been quite aggressive with its moves.
"We have maintained that discussions are ongoing (about Tata’s integration plans), and a decision has not yet been taken,” said Kannan. “We have to wait and watch to see what form this takes, whether it will be a merger or what kind of position shareholders will take."
"Until that is decided, we still operate on many common routes (with Air India). There is overlap on domestic and international routes with Air India, and we will continue to compete (with them) on similar routes." Despite challenges, Kannan said Vistara is ready to go ahead with all planned expansion, which includes purchasing new aircraft and launching new routes. The airline is in talks with aircraft manufacturer Boeing for four 787 Dreamliners, and expects them to be delivered in 12-18 months.
More UAE operations?
Vistara currently serves 43 destinations across 12 countries, including daily flights from Abu Dhabi and Dubai to Mumbai and Delhi. However, the airline has been unable to reach its full potential due to the exhaustion of traffic rights between Gulf countries and India. "On India-Dubai, traffic rights have been almost exhausted," said Kannan. “As a late entrant, Vistara did not have the benefit of having historical rights. We have to wait and see what happens in that regard as far as Dubai is concerned.”
However, there are still routes available in Abu Dhabi, which is why Vistara launched Mumbai to Abu Dhabi services since August last.
"Depending on how the Abu Dhabi–Mumbai route goes, which is performing at above 80 per cent, we are looking to expand to other cities down the road," he added. Vistara is also open to looking to open other points in South India, a high-performing sector. However, the airline is yet to zero in on operation points.
No special flights
Regarding GCC-wide operations, Kannan considers Saudi Arabia a vast catchment area. Vistara operates four flights to Jeddah, and while there are no special flights to Doha planned for the World Cup, it hopes to re-launch services to Qatar shortly. "We did operate to Qatar during the bilateral bubble agreement that India had with several GCC countries as there was no need for traffic rights at that time,” he added.
All set for Muscat
Vistara also recently announced its fourth destination in the GCC - Muscat. The carrier will begin offering flights from Mumbai to Muscat starting December 12, flying once daily using one of its Airbus A320neos. Covid-triggered losses The Indian airline added five destinations through the COVID-19 phase and additional flights to several international destinations, thanks to the ‘Vande Bharat’ scheme. "COVID-19 has not hampered our growth plans. We were still taking aircraft and growing.”
Vistara had 40 aircraft in 2020 and which has risen to 54 now. "Over the last two-and-a-half years, we added capacity. Where we sit today in terms of numbers of flights and frequencies, we are almost 25 per cent more compared to pre-Covid.”
The airline has also added to its operations to London, Frankfurt, and Paris during the pandemic. "Due to the delay in delivery of the four 787 Dreamliners, we procured a leased aircraft and increased frequencies to Frankfurt and Paris. With the additional four aircraft, we expect to enter Haneda in Tokyo, Incheon in Seoul and eventually the US markets," Kannan said.
However, since passenger load factors have improved and people are gravitating towards known airlines, the entire service is focused on customer service experience, said Kannan."
Our market share has grown despite Covid-related issues. Moreover, the strengthening of the dollar vis-a-vis the rupee has been a big challenge for all airlines operating in India.”