Vistara – the TATA-SIA joint venture took delivery of its first B787-9 Dreamliner aircraft in late February. While this marks a new phase in the growth of the airline which started international operations last year, the gloom and closures surrounding Corona virus has led to the airlines joining others in suspending international operations. The airline currently operates to Singapore, Colombo, Dubai, Bangkok and Kathmandu.
In March 2017, this website had predicted that the airline could look for A321s, a sub-fleet of A320s and I had predicted that the airline will opt for B787-9. In 2018, the airline placed orders for A321 and B787-9 as part of its fleet expansion. The airline will be the first and only airline in India to operate the B787-9. Air India operates the B787-8 Dreamliner and has 27 in its fleet. Vistara also becomes only the second carrier in India currently to have wide body aircraft in its fleet.
Vistara has configured its aircraft with 299 seats, something which was released by this website in November 2019. The three-class configuration will comprise of 30 Business Class seats in 1-2-1 (6 rows), 21 Premium Economy class seats in 2-3-2 (3 rows) and 248 Economy seats. This is first of the six aircraft which the airline has on order with Boeing. The aircraft comes with Panasonic powered in-flight entertainment system with personal TVs on all three classes.
As the first plane landed on 29th February, the airline became the only private carrier in the country to have a widebody aircraft in its fleet. From the time it ordered to the time it received, Jet Airways had gone down, a telling tale of the challenges of airline industry in India.
The B787 Dreamliner has had quite a ride thus far. The airplane had its first flight on 15th December 2009. There was a global grounding in January 2013 and Boeing revised the battery design and the grounding was revoked in April 2013. The B787-9 entered commercial service in August 2014. The 787’s cabin windows are at higher eye level, so passengers can maintain a view of the horizon. The composite fuselage permits larger windows without the need for structural reinforcement. Instead of plastic window shades, the windows use electrochromism-based smart glass allowing flight attendants and passengers to adjust five levels of sunlight and visibility to their liking, reducing cabin glare while maintaining a view to the outside world, but the most opaque setting still has some transparency.
Business Class seats on the Vistara aircraft are Stelia manufactured – the same which are on the Singapore Airlines B787-10. With a seat pitch of 44” and width of 20”, it gives a bed width of 20” and 26” with armrest lowered. The IFE screen is 18” with IFE Touchscreen Video Handset. The six-way headrest, headset hook, stowage compartment, pull-out mirror, USB port and 3-pin charging point in every seat, passenger control unit to control seat functions and three-point seatbelt completes the Business class seat.
Premium Economy has a separate and private cabin of 21 seats, manufactured by Recaro. A seat pitch of 38” (7” more than economy) and width of 19.09” (2.09” more than economy) with a recline angle of 7”. The IFE monitor size is 13” for seatback monitors, except for the first row where the in-arm monitors are 12” and has IFE touchpad handset in each seat. The seat comes with calf rest and extendable footrest. Each seat has a USB port and 3-pin charging point for each seat.
Economy section has 248 seats and the seats are RECARO seats with a pitch of 31” and seat width of 17” (The airline’s A320 have a seat width of 18”) with a recline angle of 5”. The IFE monitor size is 12”. The airline offers six-way headrest and a high literature pocket for greater legroom. While each seat has USB port, there are two 3-pin power outlets for a group of 3 seats.
The airline had already announced that it would have Panasonic IFE with in-seat touchscreen monitors with HD display. The airline intends to have a rich multimedia library with nearly 150 movies, close to 500 short programs and almost 250 music audio compilations in English, Hindi, Simplified Chinese and Japanese. A 3D flight path map, flight tracker and Internet, SMS, MMS and 3G mobile data through GSM and GPRS
Vistara announced that it would start deploying the aircraft on Delhi – Mumbai – Delhi, the busiest corridor in the country on 19th and 20th March. This will be the first commercial service for the aircraft and would operate the below flights.
UK933 DEL1530 – 1740BOM
UK996 BOM1840 – 2050DEL
With the current global restrictions in place, it is unclear when the airline will start international services with the aircraft. There has been a lot of speculation around the routes and continues to be a closely guarded secret. More than closely guarded secret, it now looks like an ever changing scenario in which the airline will have to adjust. The airline is holding slots at London Gatwick though it will prefer operating to London Heathrow, where its slots were rejected.
On top of the list to deploy the aircraft would be places like London, Singapore, Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Dubai – for any Indian carrier with wide body aircraft in its fleet. Protests in Hong Kong had made it a weaker market and the recent threat of Coronavirus has meant that the markets of Singapore and Tokyo are also affected.
The secret could well lie in the partnerships that the airline has made. The airline has codeshare partnerships with British Airways, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, Silk Air, Singapore Airlines and United. Given that a non-stop to USA is not on the cards (immediately), that leaves with London, Tokyo, Frankfurt and Singapore as the options. The airline has an interline agreement with 26 airlines which includes Air France, Aeroflot, KLM, Swiss and Virgin Atlantic. What could that elusive destination be?
JAL code share
The airline also announced an enhancement in codeshare partnership with Japan Airlines. JAL will add 13 new destinations in India while Vistara will add 5 new destinations in Japan. Tokyo – Delhi and Tokyo – Bengaluru will have the Vistara code,
The IFE with Japanese language, strong partnership with JAL, Olympic traffic later this year and lack of multiple options to Japan would make Tokyo a no-brainer launch destination along with London.
The global situation has gone from bad to worst in the last few days and remains fluid. We will have to wait much longer than before to know where the aircraft eventually flies but I have become more confident that the airline would now get a slot at London Heathrow and willing to stick my neck out to say Delhi – London Heathrow will be its first long haul widebody operation. It may well operate regionally to Singapore until then for multiple reasons.