Since October 2021 (or January 2022, depending on where you count from), one of the big questions on the mind of everyone tracking aviation in India has been the future of Vistara.
Back in the day, the Tata Group hedged their bets and entered the no-frill and full-service space with AirAsia India and Vistara. However, with the acquisition of Air India (which came with its subsidiary Air India Express), the Tata Group now has its hands in four airlines, which, of course, leads to overlaps and cost inefficiencies, amongst other things. Now, the Tata Sons corporate finance team is working overtime to fix it all up.
Vistara and Air India Merger
Air India is putting to bed all the questions around the overlapping entities as they untangle them along the way. Earlier on, they announced that Air India Express and AirAsia India would be combined and that the remaining equity of AirAsia Express was going to be acquired by Air India instead of Tata Sons (which have 80%+ of equity already in their name).
However, the question of Vistara’s merger with Air India was slightly complicated. From the looks of it, Singapore Airlines did not want to play a part in the privatisation of Air India, where they were offered a seat on the table, as significant resources were already sunk into Vistara for them. So, the Tata Group went on with the acquisition of Air India themselves and decided to close the gap with Singapore Airlines later. Recently, Singapore Airlines announced that they were in talks with Tatas to explore the merger of Vistara with Air India.
Coming by March 2024
The Tata Group today announced the consolidation of its airlines, Vistara and Air India. With this consolidation, Air India shall be India’s leading domestic and international carrier with a combined fleet of 218 aircraft, making it India’s largest international carrier and second-largest domestic carrier.
Air India, an airline, fully owned by Tata Sons, has been the flag carrier of India. Tata Sons, via its fully owned subsidiary, Talace Private Limited, acquired a 100% stake in Air India on January 27, 2022. Vistara, a 51:49 Joint Venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines Limited (“SIA”), was established in 2013.
Vistara shall be merged with Air India post receipt of requisite approvals. As part of the merger transaction, SIA shall also invest INR 2,059 crores (USD 252 Million) in Air India. Post the consolidation, SIA shall hold 25.1% shareholding in Air India. The transaction is estimated to be completed by March 2024.
Mr N Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons said
The merger of Vistara and Air India is an important milestone in our journey to make Air India a truly world-class airline. We are transforming Air India, with the aim of providing great customer experience, every time, for every customer. As part of the transformation, Air India is focusing on growing both its network and fleet, revamping its customer proposition, enhancing safety, reliability, and on-time performance. We are excited with the opportunity of creating a strong Air India which would offer both full-service and low-cost service across domestic and international routes. We would like to thank Singapore Airlines for their continued partnership.
Mr Goh Choon Phong, Chief Executive Officer of Singapore Airlines said
Tata Sons is one of the most established and respected names in India. Our collaboration to set up Vistara in 2013 resulted in a market-leading full-service carrier, which has won many global accolades in a short time. With this merger, we have an opportunity to deepen our relationship with Tata and participate directly in an exciting new growth phase in India’s aviation market. We will work together to support Air India’s transformation program, unlock its significant potential, and restore it to its position as a leading airline on the global stage.
The merger of the two entities is, of course, a long-drawn process and won’t happen at the flick of a switch. As things stand, aviation mergers or acquisitions in India are a lot of mess (think Kingfisher/Deccan, Jet Airways/JetLite, Air India/Indian Airlines, et al.). So I hope there is a crack team on standby to make this work.
Ultimately, Singapore Airlines and Tata Sons have always been close, and they have wanted to work together on this Indian venture for a very long time. And perhaps Singapore Airlines is angling for some cooperation which we will see in the days ahead, which will give them more coverage in the subcontinent later.
Vistara and Air India will be operating under one brand name by March 2024. In the eventual deal, Singapore Airlines gets 25.1% of the eventual airline, and they will be funding another USD 252 million for the new entity to this effect. Singapore Airlines also expects to put in roughly about USD 600 million to keep in lockstep with the Tata group and keep their 25.1% equity.
What do you make of the impending merger of Air India and Vistara? What do you think will be the pain points? Leave them in the comments, and I’ll try to address them in a separate post.
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