Not a lot has been discussed on Vistara’s long haul strategy at this point around here. In 2018, Vistara ordered 787-9 aircraft, the longer version of the 787, with a longer range. They currently have six on order, and the option to get four more. The first 787-9 aircraft of the airline is now assembled at Everett, Washington, and Boeing will deliver it to Vistara in the first quarter of 2020. The second one as well, will be inducted in the Vistara fleet within Q12020.
The first lot of Vistara 787-9s will be configured without any crew bunks, which are required for the crew to rest while on a long-haul flight. This means that they would only be able to fly about 8-10 hours for a flight. No one still knows about the product inside this aircraft, since it has not been revealed yet.
In 2019, some Hainan Airlines 787-9s started showing up in the Boeing assembly line painted in Vistara colours. This leads us to believe that Vistara had moved up the induction timeline, and was perhaps looking to work with aircraft designed to other airline’s specifications to get into the market faster. Remember, after Jet Airways’ closure, only Air India has been operating long-haul flights from India.
However, Vistara has not confirmed these aircraft so far, and their aircraft are now showing up at Everett. Boeing has offered those four aircraft to Biman Bangladesh now.
Coming to the routes. Vistara CEO Leslie Thng had for the first time opened up to this discussion in 2019, after the international operations launched. The initial routes are going to be Tokyo or London is what is known so far. Vistara is expected to fly into other parts of Europe as well with these 787-9 aircraft after these routes, or perhaps open second frequencies from other airports such as Mumbai.
London is the prime prize for any Indian airline. The amount of traffic that passes through or arrives/departs from India to London is substantial, and also, the premium traffic on the India-London routes is outstanding. No wonder then, it was a money-making route for Jet Airways, which had multiple frequencies between Delhi/Mumbai and London every day.
However, getting a slot at the prized London Heathrow is a challenge these days. So Vistara has gone ahead and gotten slots at London Gatwick for eight weekly flights between Delhi and London Gatwick in the Summer 2020 schedule at the moment which comes into effect on March 29, 2020. If it wants to operate out of London Heathrow, Vistara will need to lease or buy slots, but as of writing, Vistara does not have slots at London Heathrow at the moment. Also, with the business traveller in mind, Vistara won’t take any timeslot given to it, it would want prime time for its first frequency. On the other hand, there is ample capacity left from the Indian side to operate flights to Heathrow, subject to any airline getting slots there.
Tokyo has a unique situation brewing in 2020. Tokyo is going to host the Olympics in the second half of 2020. In the meanwhile, Tokyo’s Haneda airport, which is the one closer to downtown Tokyo, has started to accept international flights from the Summer 2020 schedule. There is only a handful of international flights that have been authorised at Tokyo Haneda, including the following daytime slots to other countries:
- United States: 12
- China: 4
- Russia: 2
- Australia: 2
- India: 1
- Italy: 1
- Turkey: 1
- Finland: 1
- Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway): 1
Similarly, 25 slots have been authorised to ANA/JAL, and they have already started the move from Narita to Haneda. Since we have not heard anything about Air India receiving these slots, it becomes very credible to believe that this Haneda primetime slot will go to Vistara. Once Vistara gets into Haneda, they will be able to offer a daytime arrival flight into Tokyo, which should be of help to the business travellers who now can fly in straight to their meetings rather than the Narita schedule where they first would land, have a very long trip into the city and then could think of doing any business during the day.
Vistara also has a partnership with JAL, who is moving it’s daily flights to Delhi from Narita to Haneda on March 29, 2020. This partnership could develop into a sort of an alliance where Vistara could operate the other frequency and arrive in the daytime into Tokyo, enhancing the capacity for Tokyo Haneda arrivals.
I do imagine that this is a hard choice, but Vistara has about six weeks to decide what they want to do from the time of writing this. But I would like to believe that Vistara is going to first go for the Haneda launch as Vistara won’t want to leave that slot open for very long. Secondly, Vistara still does not have a firm plan for London, so Tokyo will be a better option to start. Third, Vistara would be able to develop the route in time for the Olympics. Fourth, business traffic from India to Tokyo is only growing.
In a nutshell, I see a significant opportunity for Vistara to gain a foothold in the Japanese market first, before heading west to London.
What do you make out of Vistara’s long-haul international launch? Is it going to be Air Vistara London or Tokyo boarding first?