Home / Companies / News /  ‘Who’s not interested?’ Vistara weighs bid for Air India

NEW DELHI : Tata SIA Airlines Ltd, a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines, is evaluating the prospects of bidding for national carrier Air India Ltd.

“Which entity in India will not be interested to evaluate buying Air India? We need to do a long evaluation as Vistara is itself on a long journey," the airline’s chairman, Bhaskar Bhat, said on the sidelines of an event to unveil the airline’s new Boeing 787-9 wide-body aircraft. Gurugram-based Tata SIA has not decided whether it will actually bid for state-run Air India, he said. “Whoever acquires Air India, whether it’s us or anyone else, will have to follow the government timeline."

The government hopes to sell its entire stake in Air India. Last month, it 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. The government found no bidders for a stake sale in the national carrier last year, with major Indian airline operators such as IndiGo showing interest only in its international operations.

The Tata group is among the few possible contenders for buying the carrier, said experts. The group currently operates full-service carrier Vistara, apart from low-fare airline AirAsia India, a joint venture with AirAsia Bhd. The Tata group is the original owner of Air India before it was nationalized in the 1950s.

Meanwhile, Vistara hopes to start long-haul international flights in the June quarter and will take delivery of four Boeing 787s 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 will be utilizing the Boeing 787-9s on metro routes, including the busy Delhi-Mumbai sector till May.

For its international flights, Vistara is looking at various destinations such as Paris, Moscow and London, said Bhat. “However, which of these we will start, we don’t know yet."

However, the airline will definitely fly to London, “the jewel of European destinations" soon, said the airline’s chief executive officer, Leslie Thng. “Whether it (London) is our first (long-haul) destination or not, we will deploy 787-9s to London some time," Thng said, adding Vistara’s first long-haul international flights will be to countries where it has existing code share with airlines. Vistara has code share agreements 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.

The Indian aviation industry is bracing for a capacity reduction in international sectors because of the Covid-19 outbreak, Bhat said. The capacity is expected to be redeployed to domestic sectors, he said. Vistara has cancelled 27 round-trip flights to Singapore and Hong Kong during March because of falling demand as a result of the outbreak of Covid-19. “This is a short-term adjustment," said Thng.

The CEO said 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 routes.

Vistara flies to international destinations such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore, Dubai and Nepal.

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