Friday, January 8, 2016

Flashback: Vistara's operation through the past 12 months

by Soumen Mukherjee
Vistara team celebrating its Millionth passenger on 23 December 2015
Vistara, the joint-venture airline between Tata group and Singapore Airlines, had started its scheduled flight services last year on 9 January, it is the newest full-service carrier in India. The service launch was kept relatively low-key affair. The airline got its name from the Sanskrit word Vistaar, meaning 'limitless expanse'. Vistara just completes its first year of operations. Here we will revisit its operations, services and some of its achievements through out the past one year. Vistara has achieved several milestone during the course of its one year journey, for example it maintained best on-time performance record for 4 consecutive months (Aug-Nov'15). Achieved first million passenger within its first year of operations. As of November 2015 Vistara has 1.9% market-share in India's domestic aviation market.
  • On 31 March 2015 it had reached the first 1 Lakh (lakh=hundred thousand) passenger mark almost 3 months after it had started operation.
  • On 20 August 2015 it had crossed the milestone of flying the 5 Lakh or half a million flier almost 7 months from the start of the services. 
  • Finally on 23 December 2015 it crossed the much awaited milestone of flying the first million passengers just before the first anniversary.

It was correctly predicted well before here in this blog that Vistara most likely to cross the first million passenger mark before the end of 2015 just before its first anniversary on 9 January 2016.

Currently Vistara operates 307 weekly flights to a network of 12 destinations across the country. The airline started its operation with just 3 destinations, Ahmedabad, Delhi and Mumbai. With Delhi being its hub it initially served Mumbai and Ahmedabad routes from Delhi. From the beginning, Vistara almost made it a point of adding a new destination a month till July 2015. It added Goa on its network on 22 February Hyderabad on 1 March, Guwahati (GAU) and Bagdogra (IXB) both added on 2 April, then Pune (PNQ) on 9 April. Lucknow (LKO) on 18 May and Bangalore (BLR) on 16 June. Then it took a pause in August and September when it added no new routes except increasing frequencies on the BOM-GOI route from mid-September. Again in October it added two new destinations in its network, Bhubaneswar (BBI) on 1 October and Varanasi (VNS) on 21 October. So far it had only withdrawn from the BOM-AMD sector at the start of winter season 2015-16. Thereafter it added no new destinations or routes into the network. 

Currently, Vistara operates 8 frequency (one way) on the busy Delhi-Mumbai sector followed by double daily flights on Delhi-Ahmedabad, Delhi-Bhubaneswar**, Delhi-Hyderabad, Delhi-Lucknow* sectors. Then it operate daily Delhi-Bangalore, Delhi-Goa, Delhi-Pune, Delhi-Varanasi, Delhi-Bagdogra-Guwahati-Delhi, Mumbai-Goa, Mumbai-Bangalore flights.

Vistara is expected to announce new destinations from March 2016 onward, and according to media reports Chandigarh, Chennai, Kolkata, Kochi and Srinagar may feature in its future list of destinations. With new aircraft joining soon its fleet it will also add additional frequency on existing routes also. Most likely it will operate new frequencies on Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Pune sectors.

As of 8 January 2016, Vistara has 9 active Airbus A320-232 (WL) aircraft in its fleet. The airline has an agreement with Singapore based aircraft lessor 'Bank of China (BoC) Aviation' for 20 Airbus A320 aircraft, 13 of which to be A320ceo (A320-232) variant while the rest 7 will be A320neo (A320-271N) variant, to be delivered by the end of 2018. Vistara started operations on 9 January 2015 with 2 aircraft and since the airline was originally expected to start operation by the second half of 2014, its aircraft delivery schedule was such that it had to induct its 3rd, 4th & 5th aircraft in quick succession almost immediately after launch. Then it added 6th aircraft on 21 March 2015. Followed by a gap of 6 months it added the 7th aircraft on 22 September 2015 then it added its 8th aircraft on 11 October 2015 and the final one, the 9th aircraft on 30 November 2015. Vistara is schedule to receive 4 more Airbus A320-232 (WL) aircraft in 2016 followed by 7 Airbus A320neo through 2017-2018. As of now the airline is expected to have a fleet of 20 aircraft by the end of 4th year of its operations which corresponds to CY2018.

Time and again the airline management has expressed hopes of operating long-haul international flight as and when Govt allows them. And it seems evident that Govt will relax the international flying norms (5/20 rule) in the final civil aviation policy expected by the month end. Then Vistara will need to have wide-body aircraft and the officials said before that it would take 12-18 months to arrange necessary wide-body aircraft for operating long-haul flights to Europe, North America, Africa and other destinations.

Cabin configuration
The first thing to notice was its 3-class cabin which positioned it separate from the rest. Vistara was the first airline to introduce 'Premium Economy' cabin on the domestic sectors in India. The airline had configured its A320-232(WL) aircraft with 16 Business-class seats, 36 Premium Economy seats and 96 Economy seats, totaling 148 seats compared to 180 seats in the same aircraft in all-economy configuration favored by most Indian airlines (LCCs).

Among many other factors Vistara's 3-class cabin was largely blamed by the experts for its below satisfactory load factors for months. Now it is known that the airline is considering a possible reduction of business-class seats, but it is unclear whether they will reduce it from 16 to 12, 8, 4 or remove the entire class all together. Vistara seems to be bluish on its "Premium Economy' product which is unlikely to see any changes. The new cabin configuration will come into effect from its 10th aircraft, likely to be registered as 'VT-TTK'. The airline is yet to decide whether they will re-configure its present fleet of 9 aircraft or not, since a cabin re-configuration may require an active aircraft to go to workshop for 2-3 working days.

Aircraft utilization
Vistara's average aircraft utilization has so far below its industry peers. It flies only 43 daily flights with a fleet of 9 aircraft while another Tata backed airline operate 40 daily flight with a fleet of only 6 aircraft. Some of the pattern involves just 4 flights a day which corresponds to poor block time of only 8 hr 45 mins. While other airlines in India operate at least 7 to 8 flights a day with a single aircraft.
As of 28 December 2015, the aircraft utilization of all 9 active aircraft shown here:
block time= 11 hr 10 min
block time= 9 hr 40 min
block time= 9 hr 10 min
block time=10 hr 55 min
block time=11 hr 05 min
block time=9 hr 15 min
block time= 9 hr 40 min
block time= 8 hr 45 min
block time= 12 hr 05 min

On-time performance
Vistara has so far maintained very high standards in terms of its on-time performance with OTP of more than 90% through the past months. Even in the very first month of its operation Vistara has secured 89% OTP despite January being peak fog season at its hub Delhi airport. The airline has topped the OTP list for 4 consecutive months during August-November 2015. Here is Vistara's OTP report measured at 4 metro airports at Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai.

Passenger load factor
From the very first month of its operation Vistara struggled with its low passenger load factors which typically ranges between 50 to 65% much below the industry average. Its PLF peaked to 71.1% during summer peak season in May 2015 but again nose down to 59.3% in the following month. Thereafter the PLF ranges around 60-67% during July-October 2015; Meanwhile Vistara crossed 1 Lakh monthly passenger in October 2015 with 1.23 Lakh passengers. The airline had introduced extensive promotion during the Diwali holiday season in early November which results into 72.2% loads in November 2015; It is Vistara's best performance in terms of passenger loads so far in its 11 months operation. 

Months in 2015
Passenger carried (‘000)
Passenger load factor %
Market share %

In-flight food
One of the fields Vistara has achieved excellence is its in-flight food. The food is sourced from the 'Taj-SATS Air Catering' also an India-Singapore joint-venture. The menu is typically rotated in every 7 days. Business-class passengers are offered 2 vegetarian and 2 non-vegetarian options while in Premium Economy its 2 vegetarian and 1 non-vegetarian options available and in Economy class there is 1 vegetarian and 1 non-vegetarian options available. As per passenger feedback Vistara's customers seems to be more than satisfied with its food. As Vistara team had researched well before the launch and found out that in India it is mostly food related complains passenger have. In fact this can be verified by the absolutely little number of complains received by Vistara compared to its competitors. For example While Vistara received 0.1 complains per 10,000 passengers its peers Air India received 2.1 and Jet Airways received 1.3 complains per 10,000 passengers in November 2015.

In-flight entertainment
Unlike its industry peers Air India and Jet Airways, Vistara's aircraft doesn't come with seat-back LCD screens with pre-loaded entertainment contents. Instead Vistara provides pre-loaded Galaxy tabs to its Business-class passengers while as of now there is no IFE option available to Premium Economy and Economy class except the in-flight magazine 'Vistara'. But probably from next month onward Vistara to introduce BAE System's IntelliCabin IFE which is considered to be one of the most innovative IFE systems. Where instruments fixed in each aircraft will start beaming pre-loaded contents through one-way Wi-Fi to passengers personal electronic devices like smart-phone, tab etc. This service will be available to all 3 class.

* At present Delhi-Lucknow morning frequency is suspended temporarily due to peak fog season at Lucknow. Daily DEL-LKO-DEL morning flight UK927 /UK936 will resume from 16 January 2016.
** Delhi-Bhubaneswar evening frequency reduced to 5x weekly from daily to adjust the Delhi-Goa 2nd afternoon frequency. Daily DEL-BBI-DEL evening flight UK781 /UK762 will resume from 15 February 2016.

# The picture of Vistara's in-flight breakfast is sourced from internet (Bangalore Aviation). I don't claim any copyright over it. And the cover picture of Vistara's millionth passenger with CEO Phee Teik Yeoh is provided by Vistara.

1 comment:

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