Today is a landmark day for Vistara. The three-year-old airline serving 22 domestic destinations is now looking forward to commencing international operations, having received its 20th aircraft early this morning. Better still, the full-service airline, a joint venture between Tata Sons Limited and Singapore Airlines, is expecting two more Airbus A320neo aircraft by June this year, which fits neatly with these plans.
To remind you, in 2016, while clearing the new Civil Aviation Policy, the Modi government decided to do away with the requirement that airlines needed five years of domestic experience to be allowed to fly overseas. However, it retained the condition that airlines have to deploy at least 20 aircraft for domestic operations. Vistara had lobbied hard for the 5/20 rule to be scrapped, and now is poised to reap the benefits.
"Vistara (on Wednesday) received its 20th aircraft and its seventh Airbus A320neo powered by CFM engines... With this milestone addition to its fleet, Vistara completes its initial aircraft order as planned at the early stages of setting up the airline. Vistara will use the new aircraft to increase frequencies on existing routes to scale up operations in the domestic market, while gearing up to start international operations soon," the airline said in a statement.
"This is not just another addition to our fleet, but a landmark one that signals Vistara's arrival on the global map and marks the beginning of our next phase of growth. What Vistara has achieved in three years is nothing less than phenomenal, and we're confident that our distinctive approach to the business will continue to set new benchmarks for the industry," added its CEO Leslie Thng.
He has reason to be proud. Vistara is not only the highest-rated Indian airline on SkyTrax and TripAdvisor, but was recently awarded by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Airports Authority of India and FICCI for being the 'Most Passenger Friendly Airline'.
The game plan is to start with short-haul international routes, perhaps in the second half of this year itself. According to The Times of India, Vistara has applied for international rights to a number of places in Southeast Asia, including Singapore and Bangkok, as well as hotspots like Dubai in the Gulf - all within the range of the A-320. The more long-term plans for commencing medium and long-haul routes reportedly hinge on the outcome of Air India's auction.
At a press conference in January, Thng had said that the airline's promoters were keeping "an open mind" and "they will evaluate if there is a business case".
The report adds that since the Maharajah has almost 50 wide-body planes, the bidder that bags the airline will not have to purchase twin aisle planes for the medium to long haul flights. This is why Vistara has not yet placed an order for such planes yet. Winning the bidding war could accelerate Vistara's international dreams.
With AirAsia, too, reportedly planning to go international latest by early 2019, the Indian customer is certainly going to be spoilt for choice. Here's hoping that the increased competition leads to cheaper foreign flights in the near future.
(With PTI inputs)