The first day of the year saw some chatter on social media about Vistara’s entry into Mauritius and Kenya (Nairobi) from Mumbai. The TATA – SIA JV will be merged with Air India in a deal which will see the Singapore Airlines group have 25.1% ownership of Air India. The deadline for this merger is March 2024.
While it charts its expansion until then, Vistara has been expanding rapidly on the international side. Strangely it’s expansion has been from Mumbai and not its hub Delhi!
Vistara’s international ops
The airline has flights to 12 international destinations. This includes three destinations in Europe – London, Frankfurt and Paris, three in SAARC – Kathmandu, Dhaka and Male, two in ASEAN – Bangkok and Singapore and the rest as many in the Middle East which includes – Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Jeddah.
Interestingly the airline flies to Seven destinations from Delhi and Nine from Mumbai. It also operates a four weekly flight between Pune and Singapore. The operations from Mumbai are a mix of incremental usage of aircraft, connections from East to West and vice versa and connections to the Middle east from South India. Being based at a single terminal, unlike IndiGo, gives Vistara the desired ability to swap planes, connect people and run a tighter operation.
But the count of destinations is just measure
While Mumbai may have more destinations available from Vistara on the international side, it is Delhi which offers more seats. A few years ago, an aviation consultancy had said that IndiGo has more seats than Air India on international routes from India. Air India had taken strong objection to this stating that capacity is measured in ASKs and not seats.
Vistara currently offers 9520 weekly seats from Mumbai, while it has 10436 seats on offer from Delhi. In terms of ASK (Available Seat Kilometres), the capacity is tilted in favour of Delhi with 46,603,968 ASKs per week as compared to 22,662,240 Mumbai. In fact, tilted is an understatement since the capacity by ASK from Delhi is more than double of Mumbai.
This is primarily due to its three wide body B787 Dreamliners being Delhi based and operating to London, Frankfurt and Paris.
The Air India puzzle
Various news reports have indicated the CEO of Vistara, Vinod Kannan, speak about Vistara competing with all others including Air India – until the merger is complete. Yet, somewhere the thought of integration and future of routes would be at the back of the minds for the entire airline.
Every international destination that the airline operates right now overlaps with Air India / Air India express. The pricing, randomly observed, indicates a heavy O-D ( Origin – Destination) traffic as compared to other hub carriers it competes with at Muscat, Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
The route selection is also a function of Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA), aircraft utilisation and slot availability.
Mauritius and Nairobi?
There has been a recent chatter on social media about Vistara’s flights to Mauritius from Mumbai. While it made it to the airports website by mistake, both Mauritius and Nairobi will make an interesting mix, if at all the airline starts these flights.
The India – Mauritius BASA allows 14 weekly services and currently Air Mauritius is the sole carrier operating between the two countries with four weekly flights to Mumbai. The airline, in the past, has operated to other destinations in India including Bengaluru and Chennai. Interestingly, Air India and Air Mauritius have a codeshare agreement.
Mauritius is an island nation located east of Mozambique. While the island is known for tourism, over 50% of the population is believed to be of Indian origin. From a tourism point of view, the limited connectivity by Air Mauritius has meant that the sector is wide open for connecting traffic including to middle eastern carriers.
Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, sees Air India operate four weekly from Ahmedabad. The Mumbai – Nairobi route is a monopoly of Kenyan Airlines, which operates eleven flights a week. The BASA between the two countries allows 21 weekly services. With a strong presence between Mumbai and Delhi, flights to both Mauritius and Nairobi will see the airline be able to sell good connections from Delhi.
Going by the timings in public domain, the two destinations will consume one aircraft each, unless the plan is for non-daily operations and using the same aircraft across different days. The flights to Mauritius will give it an edge over Air Mauritius in terms of timing as they are better placed for holiday crowds, aligned well with the check-in and check-out timings of hotels.
The A321neo has a published range of 7400 kms while the distance to Mauritius and Nairobi is 4675 kms and 4531 kms respectively from Mumbai. The published range though does not factor in multiple factors most of the time.
As for other destinations, the ones with narrowbody will present a unique proposition for the combined entity Air India. Will the additional seats he used to upguage the flights to widebody aircraft with sizable capacity to compete with the hub carriers or will the airline play frequency over capacity and offer more choice to the market, helping form a good East – West connectivity? The answer could well lie in the cargo hold and not the passenger cabin. A significant chunk of revenue on international flights comes in from cargo and the passenger traffic is attracted by giving additional baggage allowance a few times a year.
This year is interesting, but the real Tata power can only be seen in the summer schedule of 2024. It looks like the airline is making it moves fast for a first mover advantage in the region.