Full-service carrier Vistara has received the government's approval to start services on international routes. The decision taken by the government just before the election code of conduct kicked in will make Vistara, a joint venture between the Tata Group and Singapore Airlines, the fifth Indian airline to reach foreign shores.
"Vistara has been granted permission to operate on international routes, following suggestions from the Group of Ministers formed to look into the issue. The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MCA) has conveyed the same to Vistara on March 8," a senior official aware of the development told the Business Standard. Following the go-ahead, the airline has sought permission to fly between Delhi and Colombo seven days a week. The route is currently served by Air India and Sri Lankan Airlines through a non-stop flight, while other carriers such as IndiGo, Jet Airways and Spice Jet connect southern cities like Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai to the capital of Sri Lanka.
When India's third full-service carrier launched, it did so with its eye on the opportunities in the international market. More than three years later, Vistara remains a solely domestic carrier, thanks to Indian regulations
"Vistara has sought bilateral rights to Sri Lanka and slots from Delhi Airport for the same. They will operate the flight with Airbus A320 aircraft," an industry source told the newspaper. An ongoing probe into the dealings of another Tata Group-owned airline—Air Asia India—had delayed the approval to Vistara. The Central Bureau of Investigation is probing Air Asia India for lobbying and bribing government officials to obtain international flying permits. The government had taken an unprecedented step of forming a committee of five Cabinet-ranked ministers headed by Arun Jaitley to decide if Vistara should be permitted to fly on international routes. In normal circumstances, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation is the final authority for granting an international flying permit to an airline.
The Costly Delay
The delay in approval helped low-cost carriers upend Vistara's business plans. Initially, the airline had planned to fly to Thailand but flying rights to the country are on the verge of exhaustion due to the deployment of new flights by IndiGo and GoAir. After reaching the requisite 20 aircraft fleet size, Vistara applied to the Ministry of Civil Aviation for an international permit in June and planned to start flights to popular cities in Thailand and Maldives by the end of 2018.
Though the airline's Chief Executive Officer Leslie Thng brushed aside the delay saying the impact had been minimal, industry experts flagged the issue as 'policy logjam'. "When India's third full-service carrier launched, it did so with its eye on the opportunities in the international market. More than three years later, Vistara remains a solely domestic carrier, thanks to Indian regulations," aviation consultancy firm CAPA told the newspaper.