A lot has been said by everyone about the international expansion of Vistara over the years, including by yours truly. The three-class airline, which has been consistently getting customer love domestically, finally flew it’s first international flight on August 6, 2019 between Delhi and Singapore. Here in Singapore, I caught up with the CEO of Vistara, Leslie Thng, who for the first time spoke freely about the plans of Vistara going forward.
Leslie started by emphasising that the airline had started their preparation for international operations in 2018 after the airline received its 21st aircraft. When the approval to fly internationally finally came in March 2019, the airline took a bit of time to first address the changing situation in the domestic market, where there was not enough full-service capacity flying out of Mumbai.
So, the airline brought in the 737 aircraft to be able to add capacity in a single shot. While Vistara had 22 aircraft at the end of March 2019, they have 30 aircraft in their fleet already now (13 A320 CEO, 10 A320 Neo and 7 737-NG), and will add a couple of more 737 aircraft in the coming days to take their total 737 fleet to 9 aircraft.
Starting September 2019, the airline will start to receive deliveries of their A320neos from the order placed with Airbus last year, and the airline will add a whopping 9 A320neos in 4 months. That should mean, the fleet size will go up to 41 by the end of the current calendar year 2019, from 22 in March 2019. That is some growth again for the young airline.
Next year then, Vistara will induct their first 787-9 aircraft in February 2020, and the second one in March 2020, getting set for widebody international operations with the Summer 2020 schedule. Vistara plans to receive 4 of their 787 aircrafts in the year 2020. Not to forget, Vistara also has the A321neo as a part of their order from Airbus, and next year onwards they will start receiving the A321neo aircraft as well into their fleet.
While the A320neos will continue to be similar to the current A320neo aircraft of the airline, the real changes will start to show in the other aircraft the airline is inducting.
- Boeing 787-9: The 787-9 for Vistara, at least the first batch of 6 that they will receive, will be all configured in a 3-class product, including Economy, Business and Premium Economy. Pressed a bit further to tell us more, and Leslie says to expect seat-back entertainment and wifi connectivity on these planes. Vistara has already selected a vendor, but does not know yet about who is paying for the wifi on their international routes. Vistara’s first 6 B789’s will be configured to fly up to about 11 hours, which means we should expect a configuration to host about 280 passengers on this plane. (Qantas, which flies the 787-9 right at the edge of its envelope, has 236 seats for the 17 hour flight between Perth and London Heathrow). With these 787-9 aircraft, expect to see flights to Europe and to Japan in the coming years. London Heathrow is pretty high on the list of places Vistara wants to fly to, and they will fly there subject to getting the rights.
- Boeing 787-9 options: As of now Vistara has not taken a call on the 4 options they hold on the 787-9 aircraft, but they will after having the plane in their fleet. The airline might consider flying the ultra-long haul to the US or Australia later with these new aircraft, in what the CEO referred to as Phase 2. For that, amongst other things, the airline will need to bring in crew bunks on the new aircraft which won’t exist on the first 6 planes coming in the fleet. So, expect more, but no commitments yet.
- Airbus A321neo: This aircraft reflects the new gen thinking of Vistara over, say an airline formed in the earlier era. Vistara is due to receive 10 A321neo aircraft starting Feb/March 2020 and going through the next 2-2.5 years. Out of this, the airline has currently selected the 93.5 tonne variant which will be able to fly a maximum range of 7 hours. And this means, a lot of Vistara’s regional operations on the 5-6 hour long flights, such as to Singapore, perhaps Hong Kong, and even South of Europe on the other side, will not be with the -9s, but with the A321neo aircraft. The remaining 4 may be a higher variant, given Airbus now has the A321neoLR and the A321neoXLR as well on the table. In terms of the product, again, expect a 3-class product on these planes. Like I wrote yesterday, we should totally expect Vistara to pull out a rabbit out of the hat and make a plush business class here given these flights are going to fly much longer than the domestics.
Focus on partnerships
Leslie Thng stated that the airline really wanted to build relevant partnerships and codeshares to make sure the last-mile connectivity for the passengers came through over the long run. For instance, they’ve already built partnerships with JAL, British Airways, United and many other carriers, apart from Singapore Airlines/SilkAir. These airlines would look at Vistara to complete their last mile out of India, and similarly, Vistara would use them to fly the last mile beyond their own network. For instance, with SQ’s Codeshare partnership, the airline will get the opportunity to sell tickets all the way to the USA on SQ’s network after bringing passengers to Singapore on board a Vistara aircraft. Asked about the possibility of joining the JV with KLM/Air France/Delta/Virgin Atlantic to bring passengers from Europe to India, Leslie stated that the airline continued to engage with a lot of airlines to see and form relevant partnerships. He however, did not flat out deny anything.
No alliances at the moment
The airline is not expected to join the Star Alliance, oneworld or Skyteam anytime soon, i.e., over the next 24 months. This is on the back of Vistara’s commitment to build its own partnerships out where they want to go in the coming years.
Vistara is very excited and focussed on launching their long-haul operations in the coming years. At the Delhi Airport, talking to folks before the flight, I could feel that energy. And Vistara sees itself as being able to provide the right product for the Indian market, with the right touch of luxury and the right size of the aircraft as well. No wonder then, that on the next 5-year basis, Vistara expects that it will have about a 50/50 contribution from domestic and international routes on the seat capacity they fly (ASKMs).
What do you think of Vistara’s plans as they fly international and will start operations in the coming years to more places? What is on your wishlist for Vistara?