Vistara seeks US permission, Starlux receives approval

As Indian carrier Vistara signals its intention to begin flying to the US, Taiwanese airline Starlux has made headway in its efforts to serve the North American country.

Vistara is seeking approval to begin flying to destinations in the US later this year as the Indian carrier continues to expand its international footprint. 

Although the airline is currently focused on the relief effort in its home country following a surge in COVID-19 cases, an application has been filed with the US Transportation Department (DOT) requesting permission for a foreign air carrier permit to start scheduled flights between India and the US.

The carrier, a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines, is seeking expedited approval as it hopes to launch its first route around Sept. 1, 2021. The application requests permission to serve “points behind India via India and intermediate points to a point or points in the United States and beyond.” 

Vistara primarily operates a fleet of narrowbody aircraft—with nine Airbus A320ceos, 28 A320neos, two A321neos and six Boeing 737-800s—but plans to use its two 299-seat 787-9s on the proposed US flights.

The airline currently schedules the 787-9s on its newly launched routes to Frankfurt (FRA) and London Heathrow (LHR)—and has a further five of the aircraft type on order.

In support of its application, the Gurugram-based carrier highlighted that it already holds DOT exemptions which authorize codeshare services with both US and foreign air carriers. This follows an agreement with United Airlines to display its UA code on various intra-India services operated by Vistara. 

The market between the India and the US is currently served nonstop by two carriers, with Air India operating eight routes and United offering four.

Air India’s services link Delhi (DEL) with Chicago O'Hare (ORD), New York J F Kennedy (JFK), Newark Liberty (EWR), Washington Dulles (IAD) and San Francisco (SFO), alongside flights from Bengaluru (BLR) to SFO, Mumbai (BOM) to EWR, and Hyderabad (HYD) to ORD. United operates three routes to DEL from EWR, ORD and SFO, as well as EWR-BOM.

Delta Air Lines launched a JFK-BOM route before the pandemic, but service remains suspended. However, American Airlines is poised to resume flights to India in October, with service from JKF to DEL and from Seattle (SEA) to BLR. LCC SpiceJet is also seeking to enter the India-US market nonstop. 

Data provided by Sabre Market Intelligence shows that O&D traffic between India and the US totaled 2.2 million two-way passengers in 2020, down from 5.7 million during the previous 12 months. Mumbai-New York was the biggest O&D market last year, followed by Delhi-New York and Delhi-San Francisco. Ahmedabad-New York was fourth, despite the absence of nonstop service. 

Meanwhile, the DOT has awarded Starlux Airlines a foreign air carrier permit to operate scheduled routes between Taiwan and the US. As reported by Routes in December, Los Angeles has been earmarked as the carrier’s first destination.

The airline, which began commercial operations in 2020, hopes to provide daily year-round service between Taiwan Taoyuan (TPE) and Los Angeles (LAX) using A350-900 aircraft with 306 seats. Starlux believes that by the end of 2023 it could be providing around 4,300 weekly seats on the route.

Los Angeles is one of 15 US destinations that the airline has identified for possible service as it seeks to expand its international footprint. 

Starlux currently has a fleet of five A321neos. However, 17 A350 XWBs are on order, comprising eight A350-1000s and nine A350-900s.The carrier also has an order for seven A330-900neos and five more A321neos.

Photo credit: Noah Seelam / AFP / Getty Images