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Air India and Vistara to merge, as India’s aviation industry consolidates

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India’s aviation industry may finally be on the road to consolidation and profitability after an agreement was struck to merge Air India and Vistara.

A deal has looked likely ever since Indian conglomerate Tata, which owned 51% of Vistara alongside 49% shareholder Singapore Airlines, acquired Air India in a privatisation earlier this year. The plan is build on Vistara’s good reputation in the market in conjunction with Air India’s slot portfolio and ownership of key international flying rights.

Vistara, which is only seven years old, is currently the second largest domestic airline in India behind IndiGo.

The agreement will see Singapore Airlines remaining as an investor. It is pumping in $250 million of fresh money which will give it a 25.1% share in the new airline, which will trade as Air India. Singapore Airlines has also agreed to invest up to $650 million of additional funds into the new carrier as required once the merger is complete.

As with all airline mergers, regulatory approvals will slow down completion. The merger is expected to finalise in March 2024.

Tata is also in the process of consolidating the low cost part of the group. It has taken full control of AirAsia India and is planning to merge it with Air India Express.

The merged Air India / Vistara / AirAsia India will have 218 aircraft and will fly 38 international and 52 domestic routes.

Tata Sons chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran says:

”We are excited with the opportunity of creating a strong Air India which would offer both full-service and low-cost services across domestic and international routes.

”The merger of Vistara and Air India is an important milestone in our journey to make Air India a truly world-class airline. As part of the transformation, Air India is focusing on growing both its network and fleet, revamping its customer proposition, enhancing safety, reliability, and on-time performance.”

Whilst this may be true, it is difficult to understand what value Singapore Airlines sees. It is investing almost $900 million of new money, on top of its previous commitments in Vistara, to end up with a minority stake in an airline a long way from home. The press release from Singapore Airlines says that the deal will:

strengthen its multi-hub strategy

…. but that’s not exactly giving a lot of clarity.

That said, there is – clearly – huge potential in the Indian aviation market which is currently the third largest in the world. Both Tata and Singapore Airlines must be hoping that political interference can, at last, stop to allow the sector to reach its full potential.

Comments (24)

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  • Graeme says:

    I guess it comes down to SQ still seeing growth potential in India and a future return in that investment.

  • BJ says:

    Perhaps Singapore Airlines is aiming for a Lufty-style domination of South and SE Asia market. They are apparently also developing closer links with the restructuring Thai Airways including expansion of code shares and potentially joint ventures.

    • Graeme says:

      Now having them involved in TG restructuring would be something I’m very interested in!

      • BJ says:

        Thai already down to under 50 aircraft but holdng many valuable slots in key cities. Difficult to see Thai authoriities releasing control so at best it would likely be another minority holding for Singapore Airlines. Etihad went down such a roure to best of my understanding and it did not end well for them.

        • Vit says:

          Agreed. Thai authorities will never release (full, or majority) control to outsider. Too much politics and hierachies in running TG and most of us know why.

        • Gordon says:

          It will also be difficult to see Thai airways releasing money In the form of refunds Re cancelled pandemic flights. I have been waiting over 2 years now as no doubt many others have. My latest email request for an update has gone unanswered. I don’t expect a good outcome tbh.

          There was an e-meeting on 21st July 2022.

          “THAI is pleased to inform that the creditors’ meeting reached the resolution under section 90/46 of the Bankruptcy Act B.E. 2483 (1940). The creditors who hold 78.59 percent of the total claims of the creditors who attended the meeting and casted votes accepted the amendment of the Business Reorganization Plan that the Plan Administrator submitted to the Official Receiver”.

        • Graeme says:

          Yes read a press release about their new codeshares

  • Dubious says:

    “strengthen its multi-hub strategy” -> I believe they mean they want to diversify so that they are not dependent upon one airport for their future. It’s not really about having a second hub.

    You can see locally how, in a similar way, they are diversifying their loyalty scheme too.

    There is also a defensive element – the growing middle class in India is becoming a new source of tourism, VFR and eventually business to across southeast asia, north asia and Australiasia. Not all passengers will want to transfer via Singapore to reach those destinations, so having some leverage to influence the airline network, whilst defending from other low cost carriers in the region makes sense.

    • BuildBackBetter says:

      Good points. Yes, there is huge demand for travel, both domestic and outbound.
      It can also serve as a feeder for long haul routes from SIN.

      • BJ says:

        If SQ can serve North America via India using Air India’s rights using code shares or joint ventures that likely beats nonstop all business class flights from SIN from an economics perspective. It would also allow them to ditch flights via Europe and skip potential EC261 liabilities if those apply on the likes of Singapore to Houston via Manchester. Going the other way to West North America, code shares and joint ventures with Thai , also in *A, likely makes more sense than routing via HKG or TYO. With 787s and a350s the BKK- West Coast might have become more practical than it used to be with 777s. This is evidenced by AC launching Vancouver to BKK. For *A, BKK is probably the most practical SE Asian hub given the latest generation of aircraft. It will also be interesting to see if Air India ends up in *A.

  • Sundar says:

    Hi Rob,
    It is rare to see a full article here only about Indian aviation industry, so could you please correct a couple of minor mistakes ?
    Acquired is misspelt in second para. In the third para, nine years ago seems to be incorrect.
    Hopefully we will see more follow-up articles around the merger especially if the frequent Flyer programs consolidate/merge.

  • Phillip says:

    Shame to see the Vistara name disappear! I quite like it!

    • BuildBackBetter says:

      Am happy they lose the ‘UK’ airline code. Come one IATA, are you sure there was no other code available?

      • Save East Coast Rewards says:

        What’s wrong with ‘UK’? They gave Ryanair the code for France 😁

  • BuildBackBetter says:

    It’s a clever move from Tata to retain AI as the merged airline. Don’t have to worry about losing the precious international slots, retain Star alliance membership, leverage existing government connections and contracts.

    • Dubious says:

      Air India also has some cache in India.
      Perhaps not enough for people to actually book flights, but certainly seems to have some kind of positive brand / affinity with the people I’ve asked.

      • Deb20 says:

        Mostly to do with the fact that Indians consider the food served on Air India flights as proper Indian food. Especially the vegetarians, of which there are many.

  • Aston100 says:

    Vistara is the airline that Josh Cahill seems to moan about all the time.

    • KP says:

      New video just realised a few hours ago…

    • BuildBackBetter says:

      Service has gone downhill, but partly a result of high expectations given SQ stake, partly due to higher standards set before expansion.

    • T says:

      Who cares what Josh Cahill thinks about anything? Self declared airline mother Theresa at best. Airlines he cancels online are Airlines I had great experiences with! Airlines that pamper to his needs and get a great review Are Airlines I would not touch anymore! Opinions Are like belly buttons, most people have them! And don’t get me started on the two hands on side of face whilst saying Oooh clickbait images on his little clips…..

  • AFKAE says:

    Based on a sample of 1, I hope Air India migrates upwards to Vistara levels of service.

    Flew from Udaipur to Delhi recently-virtually brand new A320NEO, inbound flight arrived 30 mins late-lots of scurrying around and outbound flight departed just 10 mins late and made its arrival time in Delhi. It’s a 10/10 from me.

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