Among all airlines to have started operations with mainline jets (Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 aircraft), AirAsia India’s growth (in terms of passengers flown) has been better than only GoAir’s. While GoAir’s average aircraft fleet in the first year of operations was higher than AirAsia India’s, but flew with poor load factors.
Air Deccan is not considered as the airline started operations in October 2003 with 48 seat ATR-42 aircraft and inducted its first Airbus A320 only in July 2004 – 9 months after starting operations.
Until the issue of flying international is resolved, AirAsia India may induct just one other Airbus A320 into its fleet by the end of the calendar year 2015, taking the total fleet size to 6. Vistara will however induct 3 more to take the total fleet size to 9 aircraft by the end of the calendar year.
Vistara’s total passengers flown at the end of the fifth full month of operations (June) is slightly better than what Kingfisher flew in the corresponding period.
Vistara may have flown close to 450,000 passengers towards the end of July 2015, since start of operations. The airline is expected to fly its 500,000th (half millionth) passenger during the second or third week of August 2015.
Vistara, the TATA-SIA joint venture domestic full service airline based out of Delhi will connect Bangalore to Delhi and Mumbai effective 16th June 2015 (tomorrow), with one flight each way, each day. This will coincide with the 159th day of operation of the airline. The airline also doubles the Delhi-Lucknow and back frequency. In the process, the airline will withdraw one service between Mumbai and Ahmedabad (UK968 and UK953), reducing the weekly frequency to 6 from 13.
The Delhi-Lucknow sector is faring well for the airline.
After the addition of the new sectors and withdrawal of flights, Vistara will operate 237 weekly flights with six aircraft connecting 10 cities, deploying a weekly capacity of 35 million ASKs. This is a remarkable growth in just a little over six months of operations.
Of these 35 million ASKs, 21 million are deployed on category 1 (CAT I) routes that connect metros to metros. The remaining are deployed on CAT II routes (connecting ‘neglected’ regions with other cities), CAT IIA routes (connecting cities/towns within neglected regions), and CAT III routes (connecting other cities not included in CAT I, II and IIA). The capacity on CAT II, IIA, III routes are 12%, 2% and 51% of the CAT I capacity, meeting and exceeding the DGCA requirement for capacity deployment on these routes.
The airline’s six aircraft will fly up to 35 flights a day. One of the aircraft rotations fly up to 12:20 hrs, while the Bangalore rotation flies 8:55 hrs. The average aircraft utilisation will settle at 11:14hrs per aircraft per day. Typical turnaround time is 40-45 minutes.
The flight from Bangalore halts at Mumbai for 5:25 hours, sufficient to operate a Mumbai-Goa sector – something the airline isn’t keen on operating now due to the stiff competition on that route. The Delhi-Bangalore flight operates in the morning and the return in the evening, making it very convenient for a Delhi business traveller, but unattractive to a Bangalore based business traveller. For a corporate focussed airline, this sparse service is a surprise. AirAsia India, which caters to the leisure traveller, offers much better frequencies and timings for business travellers based at either city. The airline will increase frequencies on the Bangalore – Delhi sector with the induction of its 7th aircraft.
The airline however offers multiple other connections to Delhi from Bangalore via Mumbai, with the most attractive connection (direct, lowest cost) being featured at the bottom of the list of options. This may need to be corrected to sort by connections, rather than time of departure.
The airline’s target of a 9 aircraft fleet by end of calendar year 2015 still sticks. Two of the aircraft will be fitted with the wireless in-flight entertainment system, which will later be rolled out fleet wide after an evaluation on these two aircraft.
Vistara, which by end of year will be a true full service carrier with the IFE system, is launching a new in-flight menu offering from 1st July. The new menu is derived from the feedback received from customers over the last six months of operation.
The airline is tying up with multiple companies of the TATA group to offer cross-company benefits to customers.
The month of May was the first month of high travel demand (one of the two high domestic demand months in a calendar year) that Vistara witnessed. Load factors at the airline were 69%.
The airline’s relatively low brand awareness may be impacting the airline’s loads and perhaps in part its pricing power. Marketing activities at the airline may need to be stepped up to effectively communicate the benefits of a fairly less known and new product – premium economy, which accounts for 24% of the airline’s seats.
Air Vistara, the newest Indian airline working towards an AOP, conducted its first two proving flights on 4th and 5th December, 2014, as officially confirmed by the airline. The first flight took off from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport at around 22:10IST (16:40UTC) on December 4th and landed at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport at 5 minutes past midnight (00:05IST/18:35UTC) on 5th December. The return flight took off at 01:10IST (19:40UTC) and landed at Delhi at around 02:50IST (21:21UTC).
Proving flights are the last stage of a lengthy process involved in securing an Air Operator Permit (AOP). Considering that the proving flights may wrap up by 7th December, the AOP may be awarded on 15th December, after the completion of the FAA Audit of DGCA, which is hoped to be completed on the 12th December 2014. The airline may start operations early January.
When operations start, it will be the first full service carrier to be launched in a decade. Kingfisher airlines commenced operations in 2005 and no full service, pan-India carrier has since been launched.
The airline was awarded its NOC from the aviation ministry on the 3rd of April, 2014, and applied for an AOP on the 22nd of April, 2014. The eight month period between AOP application and approval is similar to the period taken to award AirAsia India’s AOP.
Vistara has two Airbus A320-232SL aircraft (A320/IAE V2527-A5 engines/Sharklet equipped) in its fleet, of which one is completed in the airline’s livery. The liveried aircraft performed the proving flight.
The airline plans to have six flights between Delhi and Mumbai in the first year of operations. Other destinations planned in the first year of services are Goa, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Srinagar, Jammu, Patna and Chandigarh. The DGCA’s Civil Aviation Policy CAP 3100 stipulates that the airline ‘will be required to conduct a minimum of 5 flight sectors on intended routes, with total duration of not less than 10 flight hours’. The Delhi – Mumbai route contributes to around 1hr 40 minutes one way, adding to 3:20hrs for both ways. The airline will have to fly another 6:40hrs. Should the airline fly Delhi-Bangalore and back, it will add around 4:40hrs. The balance 2:00hrs may be picked up by flying either to Ahmedabad or Patna and back.
The liveried aircraft, registered VT-TTB, is the first aircraft that the airline received on the 24th of September, 2014, at Toulouse. The second aircraft, registered VT-TTC, was handed over to the airline five days later, on the 29th of September, 2014. The first aircraft got its livery at Singapore, and landed back at Delhi on the 15th of October, 2014, coinciding with the 82nd anniversary of JRD Tata’s first commercial flight from Karachi to Mumbai.
Three other aircraft, registered VT-TTD, TTE, and TTF are at Toulouse, reportedly not delivered in the light of the uncertainty associated with the DGCA’s delay in granting the new airline company its Air Operator’s Permit. The fifth aircraft recently flew to Hamburg, Germany, where the cabin interiors are fitted.
The airline plans to have a fleet of current engine option (CEO) and new engine option (NEO) A320 aircraft. The first 20 Airbus aircraft are to be leased from BOC Aviation – a Bank of China company that has its origins in Singapore Airlines. The duration of the lease agreement is six years for the A320-200 CEO aircraft and twelve years for the A320-200NEO aircraft.
Everything – absolutely everything in the airline has a Singapore Airlines ‘stamp’.
On 25th September, TATA-Singapore Airlines, which will operate under the brand name Vistara, publicly announced the receipt of their first aircraft, an Airbus A320-232SL that arrived from Toulouse with a tech-stop (to refuel) in the middle east. The aircraft flew in all white – without the livery of the airline. The aircraft will eventually be either stickered or painted, and the aircraft’s delay in arrival will only push the start of operations to either end October or early November, after the airline can fly the aircraft on intended routes for a series of ‘proving’ flights to satisfy the DGCA’s Civil Aviation Policy CAP3100.
From Singapore Airlines
Vistara’s first aircraft – like the other 19 aircraft that are to be received over time, are leased from BOC Aviation. BOC Aviation is 100% owned by Bank of China, one of the largest banks in the world.
BOC aviation, headquartered in Singapore, was formerly SALE – Singapore Aircraft Leasing Enterprise, when it started operations in November 1993. When formed, SALE was a 50:50 ownership between Singapore Airlines and Boullioun Aviation Services. In the December of 2006, SALE was acquired 100% by the Bank of China (BOC) for US$965 million. In the July of 2007, it was renamed to BOC aviation, to reflect the change in ownership. With the support of BOC, BOC aviation was able to expedite its growth, from 100 planes in 2009 – over the first 16 years – to 246 owned and managed aircraft operated by 56 airlines worldwide in 2014- just five years later. BOC Aviation has another 196 aircraft on firm order, as of date.
BOC Aviation is headquartered in Singapore, and has leased airplanes to SpiceJet, and Jet Airways. Interestingly, the first ever lease to a Singapore Airline subsidiary or affiliate, although the lessor had its roots in Singapore Airlines. The 20 aircraft lease to Vistara is reportedly the largest leasing agreement in BOC Aviation’s history.
Of Singapore Airlines
TATA-SIA Airlines is a 51:49 joint venture between TATA Sons and Singapore International Airlines (SIA). SIA has invested US$ 49 Million. The TATAs, although a majority stakeholder, have no recent experience in the airline business, and the airline is expected to be pretty much run and managed by Singapore Airlines, although substantial ownership and effective control will be vested in Indian nationals. Singapore Airlines is expected to dictate how the airline will be run (executed). Vistara, a full service carrier, is expected to reflect a strong Singapore Airlines influence – at all levels of operations and perhaps even decisions.
The airline’s first aircraft was ferried from Toulouse by pilots Gopal Subramaniam and Mandhesh Singh. Gopal is Chief Pilot Line Operations, Technical & Quality at Vistara, and has joined from Singapore Airlines, where he still considers to be employed. Mandesh was flying the Airbus A330s for Singapore Airlines, and previously the A320s for SilkAir, and was part of the crew that inaugurated the direct Singapore-Coimbatore flight in 2007.
Phee Teik Yeoh, CEO of Vistara, has been with Singapore Airlines for nearly 23 years, and started his career with the airline as a Network Planning Analyst. Considering the CEO being a Singapore Airlines’ guy, and that he has held a wide spectrum of portfolios at SIA, prepping him for the role as a CEO, all management decisions and recommendations will pretty much be the way Singapore Airlines wants it.
At AirAsia India, none of the technical or managerial positions are held by any former AirAsia employees.
For Singapore Airlines
Historically, airlines which Singapore Airlines either has a stake in, or is a parent company of, have filled gaps in services of SIA. For example, routes dropped by Singapore Airlines, and later SilkAir, have been taken up by Tiger Airways. Together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, Singapore Airlines has managed an extensive network, catering to both business travellers and budget travellers. An Indian network was missing, and with Vistara, Singapore Airlines can offer its customers a near seamless experience and service – connecting them from various parts of India to its hubs at Singapore or stations in India, from where passengers can be connected to the rest of the world. With Singapore gradually losing out as a preferred global hub to the strategically located and aggressive Middle-East Asian hubs, through which a significant number of Indian passengers transit, capturing the Indian market, both directly and indirectly, is key. The Vistara strategy gains prominence in the light of the Jet – Etihad deal, which is aiding in diverting international traffic from India to the West.
Singapore’s deep involvement in the airline will bode well for Vistara – in terms of network, service, safety, and operational service metrics of on-time performance, in-flight service, and in-flight experience. Together with brand new aircraft, Vistara as a full service carrier driven by Singapore Airlines is poised to conquer the full service market over Indian skies.