Full service airline Vistara, a 49:51 joint venture between Singapore International Airlines (SIA) and Tata Sons, is mulling a Boeing 737Max order, which indicates a possible fleet change by the airline from its current aircraft type of Airbus A320s, multiple sources within the industry and the airline told FE. Since Vistara’s current fleet of Airbus A320s is all leased, these aircraft can be returned.
Vistara, which launched flights three years ago, is also set to launch its international operations by the second half of this year and is looking to place orders for wide-body aircraft to service long-haul markets along with the existing single-aisle equipment that it currently has, giving it penetration in the domestic and medium haul markets.
It flies to 22 destinations with over 730 flights a week, operated by a fleet of 20 Airbus A320 aircraft.
A Vistara Spokesperson declined to comment on FE’s query on the subject.
Sources within the airline confirmed that pilots have already been initiated into Max training and the ones hired from SpiceJet have been told by the airline that they need not go in for a conversion training from Boeing to Airbus aircraft type, as SpiceJet is a Boeing fleet and any change of aircraft type needs a conversion training. Other sources indicated that computer-based training on the Max aircraft module is also under way even as it is sending its commercial pilot licence (CPL) holders for a Max training schedule.
This change in aircraft type by Vistara can be seen in the context of the recent developments that have been taking place at SIA. At its latest results briefing that was reported by the media in Singapore, SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong said, “Because of the traffic between India and Singapore, we know there will be synergies,” adding, “For the obvious reason that they can actually tap into the traffic that we can feed from Southeast Asia and Southwest Pacific.”
SIA merged SilkAir, an airline launched in 1989 as Tradewinds that was primarily focused on holiday destinations in Southeast Asia, into the flagship carrier last week, SilkAir also has flights to India. The flagship carrier will now invest S$100 million for upgrading fleet and also upgraded cabin of its regional arm, as reported and informed to stock exchanges there on May 18 under a multi-year initiative.
The exercise will lend SIA a brand consolidation leaving only two formats — SIA and Scoot, its low-cost arm — and it will also allow consolidation and route synergies and added capacity. It is only natural that SIA will also look at its Indian investment, Vistara, to gain that traction and have commonality to an extent that it will help both networks grow.
Importantly SilkAir, which currently operates a fleet of 11 Airbus A320-family aircraft and 22 Boeing 737-800 and 737 Max8 aircraft, is transitioning from an Airbus fleet to a Boeing fleet and Vistara’s current chief executive officer Leslie Thng is the person credited with visualising and undertaking this fleet transition.
Aviation consultant Mark D Martin, founder and CEO of Martin Consulting, says perhaps the convenience of a Boeing fleet whereby it lends itself to easier maintenance, easier flying and also easier rectification may be a reason to look at the airline’s decision. “Commercially it is a major decision; if it is happening and it is more a matter of the math, what looks good for the airline and makes sense for the region in which it is flying. The Max was created as a competitive product to A320 Neos but Max does not have engine glitches issues that is something of a concern area for Airbus specifically for the rugged Indian weather conditions,” Martin said. He also hinted at great deals from Boeing for hard selling the Max to the Indian airline companies, as was done by Airbus in the initial years which did see some of the airline going in for a fleet change, for example Malaysia-based carrier AirAsia.
By Manisha Singhal