Vinod Kannan, Vistara’s Chief Commercial Officer, believes there’s going to be opportunities for long-haul and direct flights from India. He also discusses in detail how the airline is faring and what lies in store for 2021-22.
Despite the pandemic, Vistara has not cancelled any of its planned deliveries. In fact, over the last couple of years, it has taken about seven or eight of them, including deliveries of the 787s and the 321s. In a panel discussion conducted by CAPA – Centre for Aviation recently, Vinod Kannan, Vistara’s Chief Commercial Officer, outlines the airline’s strategy for the near future. Sharing more details on the planned fleet, he says, “To put things in context, pre-COVID, 90 per cent of capacity was deployed on domestic. We had only about five destinations internationally, but we’ve expanded. In fact, we’ve grown more internationally now with the travel bubbles India has with various countries. We started flights to London and Frankfurt, for example. It’s actually been an opportunity for us. We remain committed to the order book of about 70-plus aircraft in the next couple of years. We will have a fleet size of 120 by about, I would say, mid-2023 is what we’re shooting for.”
He believes there’s going to be opportunities for long-haul and direct flights from India, with people wanting to fly direct. “We have two 787s for long-haul and four more on order. We will have a fleet of six, hopefully by next year,” Kannan says.
Sharing his views on international travel in the Asia Pacific, Kannan says it’s going to happen in stages. “I think regional travel will start probably in the next three to six months, assuming that we don’t have any major second, third or fourth wave in various countries. But, intercontinental or long-haul travel might take eight to 12 months, probably towards the end of this year. The Civil Aviation Ministry is already thinking about a mechanism they should put in place for scheduled international travel. It’s probably going to be bilateral. I don’t think they’re going to open up the whole world at once.”
Speaking on network planning, Kannan says that every airline will probably take what they’re given, given the current situation. “As much as we’d like to say that the network planners could predict what’s going to happen, all that was out of the window 12 months ago. My network planning team was changing networks almost every other day because the demand patterns were changing, and different states were coming up with different rules. In an ideal scenario, you can plan for certain leisure routes or certain labour-dependent routes, but in reality, we will probably be looking at routes that have the least resistance, routes that are the easiest for people to actually travel on,” he says.
Technology is something that every airline is now looking at to see how they can offer more self-help, more contactless, or a better customer experience. “One thing that is really important to point out is, at least in the Indian context, the mindset of customers has changed. If you look at it pre-COVID, the percentage of customers who did an off-airport check-in was between 30-40 per cent. Now, it’s 95 per cent because you need to have a boarding pass before you can even enter the airport. I think some of these changes are here to stay. This crisis has hastened some of these changes which might have taken much longer for passengers to come to terms with at least in the domestic context,” Kannan says.
An evolving hub strategy
Looking at the way Vistara is positioned – as a full-service carrier between metro cities, as well as to serve the international market, its primary and secondary hubs would remain. “What will probably change is some of the routes that we would not have thought of operating in the past, we are operating some of them today. Some routes were probably not on the top of our list pre-COVID but then because of migration, because of people moving from primary cities to secondary, tertiary cities, those have now become important. That’s an evolving landscape but, fundamentally, we’re not going to look at any major changes in the hub structure,” he says.
Vistara flies to Malé
Vistara inaugurated its non-stop flights between Mumbai and Malé on March 3. It offers choice of Business, Premium Economy and Economy class on the route. The airline will fly three times a week under India’s transport bubble agreement with the Republic of Maldives.