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Vistara, the full-service airline venture of Tata Sons Ltd and Singapore Airlines Ltd (SIA), will keep its fleet expansion plan unchanged as it expects air travel demand to rebound from the pandemic-related disruptions that have roiled the industry.

The expansion will see Vistara, run by Tata SIA Airlines Ltd, add six Boeing 787 wide-bodied planes by March 2022, chief commercial officer Vinod Kannan said in an interview. The airline plans to add 25 aircraft by 2023.

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“We are pursuing opportunities to add other long-haul routes to our network to operate flights as part of travel bubble agreements for now. Our fleet expansion plan remains on track. By 2023, we expect to have a fleet size of close to 70 aircraft," Kannan said.

Vistara has a fleet of 45 aircraft comprising 35 Airbus A320, two Airbus A321neo, six Boeing B737-800NG, and two Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner planes. The airline operates flights to more than 30 destinations in India, and to overseas destinations such as Dubai, Dhaka and Doha. It has temporarily suspended flights to London to comply with a government directive.

The pandemic has led the government to continue a ban on international flights that currently runs through 31 January. However, dedicated cargo flights and those specifically allowed under bilateral air bubble pacts will continue to operate. A bilateral air bubble is a mechanism to resume flights between India and other nations with preconditions during the pandemic.

India has bilateral agreements with 23 countries, including France, Germany, Japan, Bangladesh, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the US. The agreement with the UK stands suspended till 7 January to prevent the spread of a new strain of the virus that is considered to be more infectious.

“The temporary ban on flights to the UK is surely another blow to the global aviation industry, given the importance of UK-bound routes for any major airline, but the reasoning behind the move is understandable," Kannan said.

Kannan said air travel within India is reviving. “We have been gradually mounting flights in our domestic network, and we are operating at 70% of pre-covid capacity. While we may be prepared to operate at 100%, deployment continues to remain regulated by government and depends on multiple factors, most important being passenger demand," he said.

However, business travel, which typically brings in higher revenue, is yet to pick up due to travel curbs.

“As organizations increasingly embrace remote working, there may be a short-to-medium-term effect on demand for business travel," Kannan said.

“The demand for domestic travel has been progressively picking up in the last few months owing to the festive season and holidays. Today, people are more confident of flying than they were earlier this year and, therefore, it may be safe to say that domestic air travel has entered a phase of recovery," Kannan said.

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