Indian Airline Vistara Eyes European Network Development

Vistara’s CEO, Leslie Thng, has outlined plans for the airline to fly to even more international destinations over the next few years. Speaking at a media event following Vistara’s first flight to Singapore, he noted that the airline would focus on Europe and Asia for what he calls ‘phase one’ of its expansion plans. The US and Australia will come later. Overall, he wants to have 50% of the airline’s capacity on international routes within the next five years.

Vistara airline with flight crew on ground
Vistara wants to start service to Europe and Asia. Photo: Vistara

As if you hadn’t had enough Vistara news this week, there’s been another development from the little Indian airline that can. The full-service carrier, which celebrated the launch of its first international flight to Singapore just days ago, is now putting plans in place to fly even further.

Speaking at a media roundtable following the landing of its Singapore flight, Hindu Business Line report CEO Leslie Thng as saying,

“We would like to go medium to long haul as soon as we get the Boeing 787-900 aircraft. We would like to go to London Heathrow as and when we are granted the rights. We do have plans to fly to the US and Australia but that will be in phase II.”

In fact, the CEO went on to say that 50% of Vistara’s capacity will be directed at international routes over the next five years, taking in destinations in Europe, Australia and the US as well.

Half of all flights will be international

Thng went on to say that the speed of Vistara’s network expansion would depend on how quickly they could introduce new aircraft to the fleet. The airline has been busy inducting new planes, including nine Boeing 737 jets which used to be operated by now defunct Jet Airways.

The carrier rushed to get the 737s into service, with many still wearing mostly Jet Airways livery for some time. Most have now been repainted in full Vistara colors.

As reported in the Business Standard, the CEO said,

“We are ending the financial year soon in March 2020. The contribution of international as a percentage of ASK will still be low because we are just starting [international operations].

 “In next 2-3 years, I would say that in terms of ASK, domestic would be still be acquiring a larger proportion, compared to international, on the basis that we would continue to expand our domestic operations as well,

“If you extrapolate further beyond three years, and see five years down the road, we could possibly look at 50-50 per cent kind of contribution.”

On March 31st this year, Vistara had just 22 aircraft. Thng says that by the start of the new year, they will have at least 41. On the order books already are six A321neos and six 787-9 Dreamliners. The first two Dreamliners are due to arrive in February and March next year. The first A321neo is expected in March 2020 also.

Which planes will be used for long haul?

Clearly, the A321neo and 787-9 are earmarked for long haul operations. The A321neo has a range of around seven hours flight time from Delhi. This puts destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong and even the south of Europe within reach.

Boeing 787-9
Vistara will take their first 787-9 in 2020. Photo: Boeing

For the rest of the world, only the Dreamliner will do. The 787-9 will be able to fly around 11 hours from Delhi. This could see it reaching any part of Europe, including London, as well as Australia and the US. However, Thng has indicated that the US and Australia are seen as a secondary phase, stating that, “Under phase 1, the B787 would be connecting Asia and Europe.”

Overall, Vistara has indicated plans to add around 60 aircraft to the fleet over the next five years. 10 of these will be Dreamliners, whereas the rest will be A320neos and A321neos.

Codeshares a must

Vistara has a long road ahead of them to attract frequent fliers to its services. Although the airline has said it will expand its own loyalty scheme, known as ‘Club Vistara’, Thng is acutely aware of the benefits some solid codeshares can bring. Speaking in an interview with LiveMint, he said,

“For now, we are focusing on our code-share agreements that is Singapore Airlines, British Airways, United Airlines, Japan Airlines. We are looking to put our code into 44 destinations across 10 countries—the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia,”

The other issue for Vistara is getting permission to fly to the destinations they want, as well as securing landing spots at the airports of choice. Codesharing would give them more leverage to secure landing slots at busy airports such as London Heathrow and Tokyo’s Narita airport.

Vistara take off
Vistara is looking for codeshares to facilitate more international routes. Photo: Vistara

CAPA India has cited Vistara as being the biggest beneficiary of the exit of Jet Airways. However, they also noted how important it is for Vistara to maintain a solid business plan. Their quarterly markets insights report for the second quarter of this year commented that,

“Provided that Vistara can manage the costs and complexity of everything that it has on its plate, this is a unique opportunity for it to emerge as a leading full service carrier. But it must fast track its financial performance to achieve break-even this year,”

What do you think of Vistara’s plans to go 50% international? Will it work, or are they doing too much, too soon? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments.