SIA's Indian affiliate buying 19 jets

NEW DELHI • Airbus and Boeing have split firm orders for 19 jets from the Indian affiliate of Singapore Airlines (SIA) that is seeking to start international flights and bolster local operations.

Vistara, as the airline is known, will buy 13 of the A320neo and A321neo jets that have a list price starting at about US$111 million (S$151 million) each, and six Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners at about US$282 million apiece.

The combined order is valued at US$3.1 billion, excluding customary discounts, the carrier said in a statement yesterday.

"This order is very important for Vistara because we always felt that international operations will give us a leverage on further improving our financial performance," chief executive officer Leslie Thng said in an interview separately. As a full-service model in an "extensively competitive" local market, Vistara is not yet profitable, he added.

Offering premium services in three classes, the airline operates in one of the world's most expensive aviation markets, where intense competition means fares can be as low as two cents despite jet fuel being the costliest in Asia.

Still, the allure of the nation of 1.2 billion people has prompted SIA, Etihad Airways and AirAsia to seek local partners and compete against the likes of budget airlines such as IndiGo and SpiceJet.

Vistara will also be renting 37 new A320neo family aircraft from leasing companies, according to its statement. The airline has a fleet of 21 single-aisle Airbus planes.

  • US$3.1b

  • Value of the combined order of 13 A320neo and A321neo jets and six Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, excluding customary discounts.

Vistara, Jet Airways India and Go Air are among Indian carriers boosting orders from Asia as regional operators add routes and swell their fleets to meet demand fuelled by people flying for the first time.

Mr Guillaume Faury, Airbus' head of commercial aircraft, has said reducing the order backlog of over 7,100 planes is among the biggest challenges for the European maker as production fails to keep pace.

In late June, Chicago-based Boeing won two orders worth US$14.4 billion. Bamboo Airways, a Vietnamese start-up, signed a commitment for 20 of its twin-aisle 787-9 Dreamliners, while Vistara's rival Jet Airways announced it was buying 75 single-aisle 737 Max jets.

The latest narrow-body A320neo family jets ordered by Vistara will be powered by Leap 1-A engines made by CFM International and be delivered between next year and 2023. The bigger Boeing jets would be handed over in 2020 and 2021, the airline said. The Dreamliners will have General Electric's GEnx-1B turbines.

India's largest carrier IndiGo, operated by InterGlobe Aviation, is the top customer for Airbus' A320neo jets. Jet Airways and SpiceJet both have more than 200 Boeing planes each on order.

Vistara, which is 51 per cent owned by local conglomerate Tata Group and offers premium services in three classes, controls just about 4 per cent of the local market - the smallest share among all carriers with a nationwide network. It has said that its second phase of growth will be more aggressive.

Tata and SIA will fund the latest plane purchase by Vistara, Mr Thng said. It has sought approval to fly overseas, and will launch its first international flight in the second half of this year, he said.

The airline, which started operations in 2015, also has options to purchase seven more of the A320neo family aircraft and four more Dreamliners.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2018, with the headline 'SIA's Indian affiliate buying 19 jets'. Print Edition | Subscribe