More than six decades after the Indian government nationalized the airline business owned by the Tata group, they are all set to take on the Indian skies once again their Vistara airline.
Vistara is the brand name for TATA SIA Airlines Ltd which is a joint venture between Indian owned Tata Sons Ltd and Singapore Airlines. ‘Vistara’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Vistaar’ meaning limitless expanse. Since the two plan to rule the open skies with their new fleet, it looks like the perfect name for them!
The Delhi based Vistara will begin their operations with 148 seater Airbus A 320-200s. Their aircrafts will have three cabins with 16 seats in the Business Class cabin, 36 in Premium Economy and 96 in Economy Class.
Vistara got their air operator permit or AOP on December 16 and will start their operations on January 9, 2015 on the Delhi-Mumbai route with two Airbus A320 planes, and follow it up with flights in the Delhi-Ahmedabad and Mumbai-Ahmedabad sectors. They plan to add 20 more aircrafts during the first five years.
Two previous attempts by the Tata group to hit the skies had earlier been aborted. They had, together with Singapore Airlines, tried to buy a 40% stake in Air India in 2000 – originally founded as Tata airlines in 1932 by the Tata group as JRD Tata flew a De Havilland Puss Moth from Karachi to Bombay.
Tata Airlines was later nationalized and rechristened ‘Air India’ in 1953. Corporate rivalries and stiff political resistance saw the Tata’s abandoning the project. Later, their plan to start a new airline with 40% equity contribution by Singapore Airlines could not materialize either.
Those two failed attempts could not keep one of the biggest business houses in India grounded for too long and they managed to take off with the budget airline AirAsia India (in which they have a stake) in June 2014.
The sale of tickets for the flights for Vistara which is all set for a January 9, 2015 launch has already started. They have two flights on Delhi-Mumbai route on the first day and one return flight to Delhi, with the first flight scheduled to take off at 12.30 pm. On Friday morning, it was offering tickets at Rs 9,323 for economy class while premium economy seats are priced Rs 15,409.
They do plan to reward their frequent fliers like most airlines do these days, though their frequent flyer porgramme (Club Vistara) will be based on money spent by passengers, not on miles, as is the norm.
Phee Teik Yeoh, chief executive officer, Vistara, said, “I am very excited as this day is the culmination of many months of hard work. The activation of distribution channels is our first interface with our customer and with this, we embark on a journey to fulfill our brand promise of seamless travel experience”.
The timing of their launch, which coincides with the possibility of grounding of Kalanithi Maran owned SpiceJet, could not have got better for the Tatas. Earlier in the week, the ministry of civil aviation had put the ailing SpiceJet on the ventilator by allowing them to accept bookings till March-end while also asking banks to give short-term working capital loans worth Rs.600 crore.
Further, state-owned oil companies were also asked to extend a credit line for jet fuel for two more weeks. That notwithstanding, a huge number of their flights are being cancelled every day.
“The gap left by SpiceJet’s cancellations will also help a new product like Vistara find space in the market,” said Samyukth Sridharan, president and chief operating officer at ClearTrip, an online travel agency.
Does that explain their tickets being priced much higher than those offered by other airlines?
Vistara fares are more than 38% higher on the Delhi-Mumbai, 20 per cent higher on Delhi-Ahmedabad route and THREE times higher on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route!
With a majority of Indian flyers going for the cheapest tickets, how do the Tatas hope to dent the existing market? Though they are not levying an additional fuel surcharge, this would be a huge rise in prices!
Vijay Mallya owned Kingfisher Airlines has sunk without even leaving behind a trace (except, perhaps, bitter memories) while SpiceJet is grappling with its huge losses too.
Tatas, who own a 51% stake in TATA SIA Airlines, were keen to rule the skies. Wishing them a pleasant journey and a safe flight ahead!