2 min read.Updated: 04 Mar 2020, 12:21 AM ISTRhik Kundu
The airline was weighing Tokyo among potential cities for its first long-haul flight before onset of the epidemic
A single slot at Heathrow can cost up to $70 million, according to British news reports
NEW DELHI :
The outbreak of Covid-19 has led to a change in plans at Vistara for its first long-haul international flight, said a person with direct knowledge of the matter.
The airline, run by Tata SIA Airlines Ltd, was considering Tokyo among potential cities for its first long-haul destination. Instead, it is currently evaluating London, Paris and Frankfurt, the person said requesting anonymity.
“Vistara will consider flying to Japan once the situation improves," the person said. The airline, a joint venture between Tata Sons Ltd and Singapore Airlines, is hopeful that the fast-spreading Covid-19 epidemic would subside in the summer, the person added.
On London as one of the potential destinations for its inaugural long-haul flight, Vistara’s chief executive Leslie Thng on Monday said the airline will definitely fly to London, “the jewel of European destinations" in future.
“The problem with London is getting a slot at the Heathrow airport. Vistara is trying to either buy a slot from an airline which already operates there, possibly a loss-making airline which is looking to give up its slot or lease a slot for a specific period of time," the person cited above said adding the airline is expected to take a decision soon.
Slots at busy airports like Heathrow are hard to come by. A single slot at Heathrow can cost up to $70 million, according to British news reports.
Singapore Airlines, one of the joint venture partners of Tata SIA Airlines, currently has at least four slots at Heathrow. Mint couldn’t immediately ascertain if Vistara has approached Singapore Airlines to lease a slot at the airport. The outbreak of Covid-19 has adversely affected tourism and air traffic in South-East Asia, including Singapore.
“If Heathrow doesn’t work out for the airline, London’s Gatwick airport, where there are slots available, is an option. A lot of other full-service carriers have operations from that airport," the person added.
Vistara hopes to start long-haul international flights in the June quarter and will take delivery of four Boeing 787s before December 2020. 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.
Vistara’s first long-haul international flight 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.
However, the airline will not be able to fly to the US, at least until next year.
“Vistara’s Boeing 787-9 aircraft is configured in such a way that it will not be able to fly non-stop to the US. All four Boeing 787-9 aircraft, which are to be delivered to the airline this year, have the same configuration and hence can’t be utilized to fly directly to the US," the person said. “However, the Boeing 787-9 aircraft the airline takes next year will be able to fly to the US. So, the airline could start its US flights then," the person added.
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