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“We have come out stronger through the pandemic”, says Vinod Kannan in a Leadership Series EDGE Webinar

Published on May 13, 2022

The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic were not confined to the ground but impacted the skies as well. How did Vistara, the joint venture between the Tata Group and Singapore Airlines (SIA), ride this turbulence?

Vinod Kannan, CEO, Tata SIA Airlines, shared his insights on how India’s only full-service airline converted the challenges into an opportunity and spoke about its future flight path in the milestone 350th EDGE webinar titled ‘Vistara: Navigating Through Turbulence’, on May 11, 2022.

Promising take-off

According to Mr Kannan, Vistara, which turned seven recently, has built its success as India’s best full-service airline and one of the top 30 airlines in the world by embodying the values of trust and service established by its founders, including the legendary JRD Tata, and imbibing the essence of Indian hospitality.

“We call ourselves the airline that India trusts,” he said.

The airline achieved a key milestone in August 2019 by launching its international operations with the inaugural flight from Delhi to Singapore. It quickly added Dubai, Colombo, Bangkok and Kathmandu to its network. However, the pandemic stalled its expansions mid-air.

Turning challenges into opportunity

In March 2020, COVID-19 forced all airlines to ground their operations for two months. When travel resumed, Vistara, like other airlines in the high-touch industry, faced numerous challenges.

There was the unknown nature of the virus, and the lockdowns. In India, the pandemic posed additional complications as apart from the Centre, every state had its own set of ever-changing rules.

“We had to build confidence in customers that air travel was safe,” said Mr Kannan.

The new normal

Vistara took various measures to transition to the new normal. Foremost among these was digitalisation. For instance, pre-Covid most passengers checked in at the airport. Today, almost 95% of Vistara’s check-ins are done online. Or take baggage tags. To minimise physical contact, we replaced these with an SMS intimation.

Besides, the airline intensified hygiene and safety measures. It also tapped new revenue streams like cargo and anticipated network expansion opportunities arising from the huge demand for travel from the metros to smaller cities. “We wanted to ensure that people got to meet their loved ones across the country,” said Mr Kannan.

Another key priority was customer confidence. Continuous surveys revealed that passengers were more apprehensive about their fellow passengers than the airline. Vistara launched a #FlyingFeelsSafeAgain campaign to educate and reassure them.

It also stepped up customer engagement by constantly communicating COVID guidelines via SMS and its website. Then, there was the pivot to touchless such as providing a QR code for inflight magazines.

The airline paid equal attention to staff welfare. And, in keeping with the Tatas’ ethos, its staffers also helped underprivileged sections to tide over the pandemic.

Growth in times of adversity

Crucially, Vistara has managed to expand its network and market share over the last two years. “We added more cities during the pandemic than before,” revealed Mr Kannan.

One big feature in its cap was the launch of services to London, Paris and Frankfurt -- without even having boots on the ground. “All credit goes to the entire Vistara team,” said Mr Kannan.

It has also expanded its aircraft fleet from 40 to 51 today. “We are poised to grow to 70 aircraft by the end of 2023,” he revealed.

As a result, Vistara’s market share has increased from 5-6% pre-COVID to 9% today.

Looking ahead

The airline is continuing to expand its footprint domestically and internationally. It will add its 30th domestic destination – Coimbatore -- and 10th international destination – Maldives – shortly.

More expansions will follow as it inducts new aircraft, especially within Asia until it receives delivery of its remaining four long-haul Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. In line with this, hiring and retaining people is a priority.

Besides, digitalisation will continue to be a thrust area as will customer centricity with the rollout of Project Neev, a customer experience transformation programme.

A lively Q&A session followed the talk. Responding to a question about the impact of the Tata Group’s acquisition of Air India on Vistara, Mr Kannan said: “We will await directions from our shareholders. For now, our focus is on how we can build on our success. No doubt, Air India will go through its own transformation but for now, we do regard them as significant competition.”

As for competition from new entrants, Mr Kannan asserted: “We have come out stronger through the pandemic. The learnings and our united spirit will stay with us as we go forward.”




Recent Comments

Good summing up of the situation, just that, can't AI and UK work in tandem at least for schedules/ route planning and not consider each other as " significant competition " Murali Mohan AI AMD

- Murali Mohan ( Air India Ltd )

Greetings! The leadership session Was very insightful and and presented a comprehensive information on current Aviation scenario and future plans . Thank you Hussein Jariwala Flight Safety Dept- Chennai

- Hussein Jariwala ( Air India Ltd )