Vistara – the TATA-SIA joint venture will be launching flights to Abu Dhabi – the capital of United Arab Emirates, starting October 01, 2022. The airline had made an announcement to this effect on Aug 24, 2022, allowing it ample time to build loads and market the flight.
The airline will be the sixth carrier on the route, which currently comprises Etihad and Air India as two full service carriers and IndiGo, Air Arabia Abu Dhabi and Go FIRST as Low cost carriers.
For a full service carrier, the gulf expansion has to be selective as the primary driver in the market is labour traffic. The connecting traffic as well as some premium traffic bound for these countries typically fly the Emirates, Etihad and Qatar!
Mumbai hub and selective expansion
The airline has lately been focusing on Mumbai with flights to Jeddah (only from Mumbai), Bangkok – augmenting connection and now Abu Dhabi (only from Mumbai). The airline also flies to Dubai and Singapore from Mumbai. On the domestic side too, it is launching Jaipur with flights only from Mumbai. While the airline built a massive presence in Delhi, the same at Mumbai wasn’t possible due to shortage of slots.
The departures though are not as a departure bank. With a 1910 departure to Abu Dhabi, there are connections from Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi and Hyderabad with longer connections from Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. With a 0235 hours arrival, there are early morning connections to Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai, Chandigarh and Hyderabad. The flight offers seamless connectivity between Abu Dhabi and Bangkok and vice versa.
History of India – Abu Dhabi market and more
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates but pales in front of Dubai in terms of connectivity. India has a separate Air Services Agreement (ASA) with each Emirate with Abu Dhabi having its own quota which had substantially increased as part of the investment deal of Etihad in India. Etihad held 24% stake in Jet Airways and also invested in the hived off entity Jet Privilege, the frequent flyer program of Jet Airways. The Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) allows 50,000 weekly seats between India and Abu Dhabi.
Jet Airways shut down in April 2019 and Etihad has had to write off investments in many of its partner airlines where it had a stake, including Jet Airways.
Abu Dhabi airport is the second largest in UAE and serves as the base for Etihad, also the second largest carrier in UAE. The airport primarily serves Abu Dhabi – the second most populous city in the UAE.
The current flights are stacked as below. Vistara’s departure will go nearly head-on with that of Go FIRST. For the first half of October, Vistara is competing at the lower end of the fares with Air Arabia and Go FIRST in economy class, whereas there is a sizable discount in Business class as compared to Etihad’s pricing.
EY205 BOM0435 – 0605AUH Daily
3L102 BOM0635 – 0805AUH Daily
G8005 BOM1940 – 2120AUH 257
G8005 BOM2030 – 2215AUH 1346
EY203 BOM2055 – 2225AUH Daily
6E1702 BOM2200 – 2325AUH Daily
AI945 BOM2230 – 0010(+1)AUH Daily
While Air India and Etihad have been historical carriers on the route, Abu Dhabi was the 11th international destination for IndiGo, which it launched in October 2018 with flights from Calicut and Kochi. The airline currently operates to Abu Dhabi from Chennai, Delhi, Lucknow and Kochi, in addition to Mumbai. Go FIRST (then Go Air) had started operations to Abu Dhabi in March 2019 with flights from Kannur and Abu Dhabi becoming its fourth international destination. The airline currently operates to Abu Dhabi from Delhi, Kannur and Kochi, in addition to Mumbai. AirArabia Abu Dhabi started Mumbai operations in May this year.
Vistara has been selective in its expansion on the international side. It could possibly be because the airline wants to be very sure on the profitability front before committing to the market. The fragmented expansion though has its own challenges.
Going by how services to Bangkok and Singapore evolved, Abu Dhabi could see flights from Delhi in future. Unlike Dubai, where bilateral rights have exhausted, Abu Dhabi has room to grow, both in terms of availability of rights and slots at the airport. Publicly, nobody knows the future of Vistara but there are indications that it would merge with Air India. For now though there continue to be routes and announcements which have an overlap with Air India!
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