Vistara, the Tata-Singapore Airlines (SIA)-backed full-service carrier, will place an order for jets as it readies a long-term plan for starting international operations, CEO Phee Teik Yeoh tells HT in an interview. The airline is one of the beneficiaries of the recently-amended 5/20 rule, which allows Indian carriers to start international operations once they have a fleet of 20 planes. Excerpts:
When do we see Vistara starting international operations?
We are in the process of finalising our long-term plan. We expect to go to the board within the next two months. The idea is to present the plan to them, and based on that we will know how many aircraft we will need, how soon and how to get them. There is no stopping us from preponing our aircraft deliveries, but we would like to go overseas only when we are ready. It’s not about to be the first, or the earliest, and not so much about how fast we go.
By when do you think you will be ready to fly overseas?
How soon are we going to be ready is a function of when the aircraft that we need to operate are made available. Ultimately, it’s not so much about that, but how soon we can get our product and service definition ready. When we go overseas, it is going to be very different from what we are offering today. The product and service definition takes time. I don’t see how all this can be done in the next 9-12 months. Easily, it’s a minimum one-year affair.
Will Vistara place a large order like some other Indian carriers have done?
We will be placing an order. The order will be according to what the plan, which is endorsed by the board. It doesn’t matter much whether the order is small or big. We don’t want to take more than what we can digest. It has to be a size that we are comfortable... that we are capable of growing in a measured pace.
Will you start with a long-haul or a short-haul route?
It can be both. I can start with one each. Then, I order 50-50 --- 50 narrow body and 50 wide-body. It depends on the priorities and the traffic flow demand.
Last time when we met, you had said that the airlines that have rights to operate overseas do not have serious ambitions to connect India to the world, especially countries that are at least six hours away from India. So, will Vistara start with a long-haul destination?
Need not. Yes, I did mention that. By and large India is still is not that well connected to the world as it should be. It is true the incumbents are not as eager to operate long-haul other than Air India. But short-haul routes are also the ones where a lot of demand is. So it would be foolish for us to just look at the countries not connected, and ignore the true potential of the short-haul routes.
Probable destinations you are looking at?
The world’s our oyster. The permutations are endless.
Would you be looking at advancing the delivery of planes?
Advancing the delivery date of planes is something that we do not rule out, but we must have a business case. Advancing just to go overseas is not good enough. We should not lose sight of the fact that we have domestic operations to run.
Will Vistara go public?
No, at this stage the focus is making our domestic operations work well. We are not looking at tapping other sources of funds. We are not looking at an IPO (initial public offering) at this point of time.