NEW DELHI : Vistara, a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines, is evaluating the national carrier Air India Ltd after the government decided to privatize its entire stake in the airline, the chairman of the airline Bhaskar Bhat said on Monday.
“Which entity in India will not be interested to evaluate buying Air India. We need to do a long evaluation as Vistara is in itself in long journey,” Bhat said when asked about Vistara’s interest in bidding for the national carrier.
Bhat, who was speaking at the sidelines of a Vistara event where the airline unveiled its Boeing 787-9 aircraft, added that New Delhi-headquartered airline is yet to take a final decision.
“Whoever acquires Air India, whether it’s us or anyone else, will have to follow government timeline,” Bhat added.
The Bharatiya Janata Party government hopes to divest its entire stake in Air India. Last month, the government invited offers from investors for the stake sale, after the failure of an expensive turnaround plan and an effort to sell a controlling stake in the national carrier.
Tata Sons were the original owners of Air India, which was nationalized in 1950s. The government found no bidders for a stake sale in the national carrier last year, despite major players like IndiGo who showed interest only for its international operations.
It would be tough for a foreign airline to buy Air India, as they can’t own more than 49% stake in an Indian airline. Experts say that the Tata Group is among the few possible contenders for buying the carrier.
Tata Group currently operates full service carrier Vistara, apart from AirAsia India, which is a joint venture between Tata Sons and AirAsia Berhad.
Meanwhile, Vistara is hoping to start long-haul international flights during upcoming April – June quarter, and will take delivery of four Boeing 787 before the end of the year. The airline took delivery of its first Boeing 787-9 aircraft in February, and plans to add three more such aircraft in March, May, and June-July.
The airline, which will be utilizing the Boeing 787-9 plane on metro routes, including the busy Delhi-Mumbai sector till May.
Vistara’s chairman Bhaskar Bhat said that the airline is looking at various destinations like Paris, Moscow, Frankfurt and London for its international operations. “But which of this we will start, we don’t know yet,” Bhat added.
Vistara’s chief executive officer Leslie Thng however said that the airline will definitely fly to London, ‘the jewel of European destinations’ soon.
“Whether it (London) is our first (long haul) destination or not, we will (definitely) deploy 787-9 to London sometime,” Thng said.
” We will have four Boeing 787-9 planes by the end of the year. We are currently applying for permits to different countries, ” Leslie Thng said adding that Vistara’s first long haul international flights will be to countries where the airline has existing code share with airlines.
Vistara currently has code share agreement with Lufthansa, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, United Airlines and Japan Airlines.
Code sharing allows an airline to book its passengers on partner carriers and provide seamless travel to destinations where it has no presence.
Meanwhile, Vistara’s chairman Bhat said that the Indian aviation industry is bracing itself for a capacity reduction in international sectors due to the outbreak of corona virus. The capacity is expected to be redeployed to domestic cestors, Bhat added.
Vistara has cancelled 27 round trip flights to Singapore and Hong Kong during March due to falling demand as a result of the outbreak of corona virus.
“This is a short term adjustment. As an airline we are flexible and nimble to adjust our capacity according (to situation),” Thng added.
Thng also said that the airline will take delivery of an Airbus A321 plane by March-end. This aircraft is likely to be deployed on short-haul international and domestic sectors.
Vistara currently flies to international destinations like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore, Dubai and Nepal.