Marking Tatas’ re-entry into the Indian aviation space after over six decades, new airline Vistara on Friday flew its first flight, and said its aim will be to “do it right” without making a big splash.
Entering at a turbulent time facing the sector, the airline said it would not be “lavish or over-the-top” in the name of being a full service carrier.
Tatas hold a majority 51 per cent stake in Vistara — a joint venture with Singapore Airlines, which holds the remaining 49 per cent. The first Vistara flight flew from Delhi to Mumbai on Friday– over six decades after Tata Airlines was rechristened as Air India, and eventually nationalised in 1950s.
The inaugural flight was received by Tata Group Chairman Cyrus Mistry at Mumbai international airport, while his predecessor and now Chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata gave his best wishes before its take-off from Delhi, saying that a dream has come true for the group.
The flight took off from Delhi international airport at 1251 hours, while it landed in Mumbai at 1446 hours.
“We must do it right, instead of making a big splash and getting into disappointment (later),” Vistara Chairman Prasad Menon told reporters.
“Being full service doesn’t mean you’re lavish or you’re over the top. It means serving different customers’ needs differently,” he added.
Tata group also holds 30 per cent stake in the domestic arm of the Malaysian budget airline AirAsia India, but it is not a part of day-to-day operations in that venture.
Overall, Vistara will be the third full-service carrier in the country, after state-run Air India and private carrier Jet Airways.
Ratan Tata said it has been a long-cherished dream for the Tata group to establish a world-class full service airline in India and he would dedicate this day to late JRD Tata, the former chairman of the group and India’s first licensed pilot.
“Today, that dream has come to life,” he added Vistara’s entry comes at a time when the Indian aviation space has been going through a turbulent weather. While Kingfisher had to be grounded after making a big splash with its positioning as a ‘luxury’ carrier, budget airline Spicejet is currently going through tough times.
The going has not been good for some other airlines either.
Menon, a Tata Group veteran who has been made Chairman of Vistara, also said that he is not worried by the competition.
“You can’t start a business by being worried about competition but by believing you have a space. Competition is good for customers,” he said.
“For long now, we have held on to this particular dream and today I can proudly say that our persistence has been well worth it and has paid off,” Menon said.
Vistara CEO Phee Teik Yeoh said he would like to invite India to “fly the new feeling” with this airline.
The joint venture – Tata-SIA Airlines – known by its brand name Vistara, was announced in September 2014 for launching a full-service carrier in the country. The two JV partners had made attempts to enter the domestic skies earlier too, but in vain.
Before today’s inaugural flight, SIA CEO Goh Choon Phong said India’s aviation market has been expanding rapidly and they have been trying to participate directly and contribute to this growth story for many years.
The airline had applied to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for the flying permit in April last year but could get it only late last year.
On December 18 last, Vistara finally announced the launch of its operations from January 9 with flight from Delhi to Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Vistara, which has two leased A320s as of now, will operate 148-seater Airbus A320-200 with 16 seats in business class, 36 in premium economy and 96 in economy, on these routes.
Vistara will operate flights from its Delhi base to Goa, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Srinagar, Jammu and Patna in the first year, the airline had stated in the plan, submitted to DGCA at the time of applying for AOP (Air Operator Permit).
It plans to operate 87 flights in the first year, with five leased Airbus A-320s, and then scale it up to 301 flights by the fourth year with a fleet of A320s.
The inaugural flight took off in the presence of Minister of State for Civil Aviation Mahesh Sharma, along with senior executives of Tata Group and others.
Sharma said India is projected to be the third largest aviation market globally by 2020 and added that the sector opening up to 49 per cent FDI would attract many new players.
He also emphasised that safety and quality are more important.
A group of children from Salaam Baalak Trust boarded first for their first flying experience ever, followed by rest of passengers and dignitaries. GMR Group Chairman G M Rao, whose group firm runs the Delhi International Airport, was also on board.
The fully-loaded A320-200, branded in royal aubergine and gold, then took off for Mumbai.