Coronavirus Disrupts Vistara’s Plans for New 787-9s

 - March 2, 2020, 2:33 PM
Vistara took delivery of its first Boeing 787-9 on February 29. (Photo: Boeing)

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

The Covid-19 virus has interrupted Vistara Airlines’ plans to launch international services to Tokyo Haneda Airport with one of six Boeing 787-9s that it has ordered, the first of which it took delivery directly from Boeing’s production plant in Everett, Washington on February 29. Holding a ceremony in New Delhi Monday to mark the launch of 787s services, India’s only private full-service airline also expressed uncertainty about its plans for international flying in general, although it estimated some sort of cross-border service could start any time between April and June.

“We are still unsure about the [timing] of the international flights as it depends on multiple factors,” said Vistara chairman Bhaskar Bhat. 

Vistara has become the first Indian carrier to offer in-flight communication services, delayed for years but now cleared by the government. The service, provided by Tata-owned Nelco in partnership with Panasonic Avionics, will appear on all the 787-9s and around 10 A321neos, according to an airline official.

The 787-9 will start trial flights later this month domestically lasting around 45 days, said Vistara CEO Leslie Thng, while the airline considers options for international service including London, Paris, and Moscow.

“The problem is Vistara was to fly to Tokyo first and that’s a big no-no, today,” said Vishok Mansingh, managing director of Mumbai-based consultancy Vman Aero Services. “Through no fault of its own, Vistara’s planning must have gone for a toss," he added.

“London will be one of the destinations, whether first or second. Let us see which will fall in our lap first,” said Thng. “We take a long term perspective. It is important for the airline to remain nimble and flexible and adjust capacity accordingly. We hope the impact of the coronavirus is short term.”

The 787-9 seats 299 passengers in a three-class configuration, including 30 in business class, 21 in premium economy, and 248 in coach. The airline expects to receive one more 787-9 this month and the rest by the end of next year. It also expects to receive the first A321neo of 50 A320neo-family jets by the end of this month.