Tata SIA Airlines, Vistara, has received the green signal to operate the international flights to the US after final approval (Foreign Air Carrier Permit). Vistara had first applied for the permit to conduct the flights between the US and India on April 28. The United States Department had granted the temporary foreign air carrier permit to fly to the country on June 2. Now it has received the official all-clear final approval to commence US operations. The final approval implies that the Vistara can provide commercial scheduled air service between two countries. It can also operate charter and cargo flights in addition to scheduled services.
The Foreign Air Carrier Permit (FACP) allows Vistara to launch commercial services using Boeing B787-9 Dreamliners. No specific routes or destination has been disclosed.
Currently, Air India is the only airline in India to commence flight operations to the United States of America. Jet Airways used to fly on the US routes before its collapse in 2019. Now Vistara will be the third Indian carrier to mount to and from both the east and west coasts of North America.
According to Chief Commercial Officer Vinod Kannan, Vistara, which belongs to Tata Group, made plans to launch direct long-haul flights to tap into the huge North American market with Boeing 787s between October and December of this year.
Dreamliner for US flights
In Mid-2018, Vistara placed a firm order for six 787-9 Dreamliners, of which three will serve the routes to Europe and Australia and the remaining three to North cost destinations of New York, Washington, and Toronto having Overhead Flight Crew Rest (OFCR) option where two sets of the crew operate the aircraft by turn as aircraft will have a bunk for crew members. Currently, the airline operates the fleet of two B787-9 Dreamliners deployed on routes from a base in Delhi International Airport to Indian cities like Bangalore, Chennai, and the international cities of Frankfurt, London, and Tokyo. The four more B787-9s and twenty-seven A320-200Ns and two Airbus A321-200Ns on order will be utilized as per the airline’s expansion planning, especially in international operations.
Vistara Airlines conducted its flights to medium-haul routes on destinations like Singapore, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and UAE before the travel downtown due to the swift flow of the COVID-19 ravaged Indian aviation sector. Then, India grounded all its international flights in March 2020.
Order of US Department of Transportation (DOT)
The final approval of DOT means that the US will be Vistara’s fourth long-route destination as the airline has taken off London, Frankfurt, and Tokyo in less than a year, albeit with the dwindled passenger traffic demand following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vistara, to retain its ability to operate US flights, must comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations relating to safety and security guidelines, passenger services and refunds, etc. The latest order issued by DOT authorizes Vistara to operate scheduled commercial flights carrying passengers, mails, and cargo and scheduled cargo flights from points behind India, via India, and intermediate points to the points in the US and beyond. The airline can also conduct charter flights provided that passengers charter form part of continuous operation with or without aircraft change, including serving India to provide air traffic transportation between India and the US. The other foreign charters to be conducted by the carrier must comply with DOT regulations.
Current travel provision in the US
At present, the US still holds the travel restriction for foreign nationals traveling from India due to COVID-19. However, US citizens and their families, permanent residents, and students are exempted from this travel ban. In addition, most superfluous travel to India is also barred as the country is engrossed in combating the threat of a devastating third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In such a scenario, it is viable for Vistara to hold off the addition of flights to the US. The airline has multiple options to reach points across the US, either out of its base in Mumbai or Delhi or stopover points in Europe or Canada upon granting fifth-freedom route access.
Vistara’s codeshare partnership with United Airlines also allows the carrier to benefit from expansion to include more of United’s network once Vistara flies to the US.
The United States
The United States is one of the most sought-after airline markets for airlines in India. The pandemic has allowed air travelers to fly directly between the US and India instead of taking intermediate stops in Europe, the Gulf, and South East Asia.