New Delhi/Mumbai: Vistara, the full-service airline owned by the Tata group and Singapore Airlines Ltd, is conducting an international operations safety audit and exploring tie-ups with foreign airlines as it prepares to fly abroad, two senior company executives said.

The airline, which was launched in January 2015, has hired an auditor to secure the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s IOSA certification, which would let it finalize commercial agreements with international airlines, chief executive officer Phee Teik Yeoh said. IOSA stands for IATA Operational Safety Audit, a global industry standard.

“To start up overseas operations—we are working towards it," Yeoh said, confirming the airline has appointed an IATA-approved auditor. He, however, did not provide further details about the firm’s international plans.

Almost all airlines in India, with the exception of one low-cost carrier, are IOSA certified.

“Compliance with over a thousand IOSA standards and recommended practices helps an airline improve its operational safety and reduce the number of audits conducted," IATA spokesperson Albert Tjoeng said in an email.

Vistara, which was keen on international operations from the start, was stymied by a rule which mandated that new airlines had to fly locally for five years and have a fleet of 20 aircraft before venturing abroad.

In June, the government removed the five-year stipulation. This means Vistara, which has 11 Airbus A320s now and plans to add two more this year, apart from seven A320Neo expected in the next fiscal year, will be eligible to launch its first overseas flight before the end of 2017-18.

Vistara is already in talks with parent Singapore Airlines for a code-sharing agreement.

“We are in discussions with Singapore for code sharing. They will be the first to do it with us, have initiated discussions with a couple of other airlines and it should come in another couple of months," said Sanjiv Kapoor, chief commercial and strategy officer at Vistara, adding the airline was also “exploring bilateral relationships with the like-minded parties which are mutually beneficial", without elaborating further.

Vistara has also forged so-called interline agreements with nine airlines, including British Airways, Japan Airlines and Kenya Airways, Kapoor said. Interlining is an agreement between individual airlines to handle passengers travelling on routes that require multiple flights on multiple airlines. These agreements allow passengers to change from one flight on one airline to another flight on another airline without having to gather their bags or check in again. Interlining deals may be followed by code sharing and bilateral relationships.

“As part of a long-term plan, we are looking at whether it makes sense for us to have small aircraft; it may not be," Yeoh said, adding that there was no decision yet on advancing any existing aircraft deliveries. He also said no decision has been taken on international fleet requirements, such as wide-body planes. The fleet plan has to be first approved by the Vistara board.

An official at an aircraft manufacturer, who declined to be identified, said Vistara has taken and continues to take presentations for both wide-body planes used for long-haul flights and smaller ones for shorter flights.

“But they haven’t decided yet and they are not even giving a sense of where they want to fly. For close-by destinations like Dubai, they already have A320. The question is what will they choose for long-haul operations," said the official.

Vistara has become a more attractive career choice for pilots and cabin crew since the rules for airlines flying abroad were relaxed, a senior pilot with a low-cost airline said.

Technical staff see an opportunity to fly international if they work for Vistara, compared with only free tickets for local flying with domestic airlines. Pilots also hope to upgrade themselves from flying medium-haul to long-haul planes like Boeing’s 777 and 787, and Airbus’s A330, 350 and 380.

Free seats for employees and their families—based on flight occupancy—is an important perk built into the compensation of airline employees. It is one of the reasons many of them move to airlines in the Gulf with their vast international networks.

An official at the civil aviation ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that established airlines are pressuring the government to increase the notice period for pilots from six months to one year. Officials from both established airlines (some of whom want the notice increased to one year) and new airlines (who want it to be retained at six months) have been meeting ministry officials to lobby their case, this official said.

The senior pilot cited earlier said that, like the 5/20 rule, the notice period too was a faulty regulation.

“Nowhere in the world does the regulator make it mandatory to give a six months’ notice period for pilots," the ministry official said. “It should go away completely."

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