Vistara Eyes More Widebodies If It Can Secure London Heathrow Slots

Vistara is set to receive the first of its six Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners next month. However, the Gurgaon based airline is already talking about buying more widebody aircraft if it can secure slots at London Heathrow.

Vistara Boeing 787 in flight. Photo: Boeing

Right now, Vistara has 39 narrowbody aircraft. These are mostly from the Airbus A320 family, with 32 in its fleet. It also has seven Boeing 737-800 that were snapped up from the now-defunct Jet Airways. This was nine, but two have reached the end of the leasing period.

Vistara prepares to expand internationally

But the imminent arrival of Vistara’s first Dreamliner is making the airline dream big. As Nick Cummins wrote in Simple Flying last week, the big new planes will allow Vistara to spread its wings beyond India.

In 2019, Vistara made its first foray outside India, launching flights between its hub in Delhi and Singapore. These flights use a Boeing 737-800. Now, with the arrival of its first wide-bodied planes, Vistara is looking even further afield.

A report yesterday in CH-Aviation says Vistara wants to order more wide-bodied aircraft and start flying to Europe and the United States. The information is based on a Bloomberg report from last week.

The bulk of Vistara’s fleet is narrow-bodied A320s. Photo: Ramesh NG via Wikimedia Commons.

Stakeholder Singapore Airlines behind the move

The Bloomberg report suggests that Singapore Airlines is behind the move. Singapore Airlines has a 49% stake in Vistara and it reportedly wants to shake the dominance of the Middle Eastern carriers (particularly Emirates) in India.

Vistara would be its vehicle for doing so. But to take on the likes of Emirates, Vistara needs more planes capable of doing the kind of long-haul flying Emirates does so well. This is where the additional 787-9s come in.

But there’s slightly more to it. Singapore-centric SIA is facing fierce competition from both low-cost carriers and neighborhood full-service airlines across its South-East Asian home turf. The airline is looking for growth opportunities further afield. The fabled but fraught Indian aviation market appears to be beckoning.

Part owner Singapore Airlines is looking for growth opportunities. Photo: Damien Aiello via Wikimedia Commons.

There’s plenty of passenger traffic between India and both Europe and the United States. Right now, the Middle Eastern carriers are happily soaking up the bulk of that traffic. Singapore Airlines would like a piece of the action.

Cost may be a barrier

Two weeks ago, Mark Finlay reported in Simple Flying that Vistara was eyeing slots at Heathrow. A week later, Bloomberg was on the story. It noted that slots at Heathrow can cost up to USD$70 million each.

At this stage, Vistara hasn’t said where it will send its first Dreamliners. London is understood to be top of its wish list. Air India, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and TUI Airways already fly direct between India and London. Both Air India and British Airways fly to and from multiple Indian cities to the United Kingdom.

While operating domestic flights within India is a tough business, international flights from India can be profitable. By 2023, Vistara wants to have a 50/50 split between domestic and international flights.

The cost of slots at airports like London’s Heathrow may put a dint in Vistara’s plans. Photo: Mike McBey via Flickr.

But the sheer cost of the Heathrow slots could put a dint in Vistara’s aspirations for more wide-bodied aircraft. A Boeing 787-9 has a list price of approximately USD$250 million. If Vistara used one to fly exclusively to Heathrow, the slot price effectively adds a 30% price premium to that aircraft.

It should also be noted that Vistara is looking at flying to the United States. It is reported that Vistara does not consider the Boing 787-9 suitable for flights to the United States. The reason given in ch-aviation is the absence of crew rest areas.

That does not seem an insurmountable problem. But it also suggests that any further wide-bodied aircraft orders by Vistara will not necessarily be 787-9s.

Simple Flying has approached Vistara to get the latest status on their plans to fly to Heathrow. At the time of publication, there has been no response.