Vistara to start overseas flights this year after fleet grows past 20

Vistara, the Tata-Singapore Airlines joint venture, plans to start its international operations with flights to the Gulf and South-East Asia with its A320 Neo planes, the airline's chief executive officer Leslie Thng said on Friday.

The full-service carrier plans to kick off its international operations from the second half of this year, though the airline will explore the possibility of flying overseas earlier.

As per Indian rules an airline must have at least 20 aircraft in its fleet before it can operate overseas flights. Vistara has 17 aircraft in its fleet which will grow to 20 in March, while its 21st plane will come in May and 22nd in June.

"Technically, with our 21st aircraft in May, we should be able to go international then. But we need to have some time to prepare ourselves for regulators we are looking at second half of 2018. If all things go on well then we will try to bring it forward if possible," Thng said.

The entire fleet of 22 aircraft will be Airbus -13 A320 ceo (current engine option) and nine A320 neo (new engine option) aircraft.

''If you look at the A320 and their range in terms of where they can fly, we are looking at four to five hours (of flight). It is going to be regional, it is going to be in the Gulf, South East Asia. For the initial plan, this is where we are venturing into,'' the Vistara CEO told reporters in New Delhi.

Vistara has already started ''engaging'' with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation for requisite permissions for its international operations, he said.

He added there was no decision on the type of aircraft the airline will buy beyond its 22nd aircraft. ''We don't have any firm plans, we are still in discussions as to how and when we are intending to this. We are planning our international operations in a progressive manner, meaning we will start with the regional and short haul, and then progress to medium haul, and eventually long haul,'' Thng said.

Since a medium haul would mean five to nine hours of flight, the airline would have to look at different types of aircraft, Thng said, adding it was open to aeroplane manufacturers other than Airbus.

Over the three years, the airline has been inducting 5-6 aircraft annually but going forward Vistara intends to be ''more aggressive'' in terms of its fleet expansion. The airline will also be partnering with global airlines to be able to sell more destinations in different countries.

''When we go international in country A we are not going to fly many, many destinations there, we will need a player who can support us for the feed so that we can sell more destinations in country A,'' said Thng.

While it adds international destinations, Vistara will also aim to strengthen its domestic network so that it can develop Delhi as a hub.

''When we go international we need to beef up our own domestic network because our primary hub will still be in Delhi. To go international, we need to build up connectivity between Delhi and all the different metros and tier-2 and tier 3 cities so that we can provide connectivity both ways,'' the CEO said.