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Vistara is likely to place an order for wide-bodied aircraft
in the next few weeks as part of its plans to expand to long-haul overseas
routes, people aware of the deliberations at the premium domestic carrier told

they did not specify the maker of the planes or the number likely to be
ordered, the development signifies that Tata Sons, which runs the airline in a
joint venture with Singapore Airlines, is pressing ahead with its plans for
Vistara even as it remains undecided on whether to invest in Air India.

The airline currently operates
a fleet of 20 narrow-bodied Airbus A320 planes of about 180 seats. Wide-bodied
planes typically have more than 300 seats, twin engines and a longer range of
more than eight hours.

“Vistara plans to induct
wide-bodied planes irrespective of whether the Air India deal happens,” said
one of the persons, who did not wish to be identified. Spokespersons at Vistara
could not be reached for comment.

The airline’s salt-to-software conglomerate
parent is said to be interested in bidding for Air India, which has been put on
the block by the government. One of the advantages is the national carrier’s
international operations.

Experts have said that it makes
sense for the Tatas to systematically merge Air India at least operationally
with Vistara if the deal fructifies. The Tatas also run a no-frills carrier, in
a joint venture with Malaysia’s Air Asia.

But a
final decision from the Tatas hangs in a limbo as it is not enthused by the
current terms of the bid — taking over majority of Air India’s debt and
workforce; keeping it at arm’s length from other businesses, which rules out a
merger of operations with an existing carrier; and conceding almost a quarter
shareholding to the government.

“Singapore Airlines is an extremely focused
carrier,” said Mark Martin, founder of Martin Consulting. “It didn’t get into
an understanding to set up an Indian airline keeping in mind a chance
investment (in Air India). It has always had its long-term plans and those

Tata Sons and several interested bidders are in
talks with the government seeking changes to some of the bid conditions that
they think are not conducive to investment, according to people in the

Vistara’s plans for bigger planes and longer
flights were first reported by ET in 2016, in an interview with the airline’s
former CEO Phee Teik Yeoh, who spoke about potential long-term plans of
starting direct flights to UK and US. Leslie Thng replaced Yeoh as CEO in
October last year.

He has said that Vistara plans to start with
short-haul international operations to neighbouring destinations in the second
half of 2018. He hasn’t elaborated on the airline’s long-haul plans.

In January, ET reported that Vistara had plans
to launch flights to Tehran first and then Singapore, citing a proposal to the
aviation ministry. Separately, ET reported that Vistara and Singapore Airlines
were working on an anti-trust immunity agreement which would help Vistara
synergise operations with its parent through cross accessing of inventory and

Vistara places an order for wide-bodied aircraft, it will be the first such
order from India since 2009, when Jet Airways had placed orders for Boeing 787
Dreamliners. Meanwhile, IndiGoNSE -0.02 %, India’s biggest a irline by market
share, is charting its own plans of fresh orders for wide-bodied planes for
planned operations to Europe and has reportedly selected the A330neo.

Although IndiGo too had expressed interest in
investing in Air India, it opted out on April 6, saying it was interested only
in the state-owned carrier’s international operations and did not have the
capability to turn around all of the national carrier’s domestic

may opt for the Airbus A330neo (list priced between $254.8 million and $290.6
million), the A350 ($275 million-$311 million) or the Boeing 787 Dreamliner
($225 million-$306 million). The actual deal prices will be considerably
discounted depending on the volume of the order.