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Vistara eyes bigger reach, fleet this year

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Indian airline Vistara expects to grow its fleet size by over a third by the end of this year as it charts an aggressive expansion plan encouraged by the potential of the fast-growing domestic market, its top executive said.

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The company expects to end 2019 with 41 aircraft, up from 30 at present and 22 at March-end, Chief Executive Leslie Thng said on Wednesday.

The carrier, a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines Ltd, completed its first international flight to Singapore on Wednesday.

The full-service airline has announced plans to add routes from India to Bangkok and Dubai as it sought to fill the gap left after the collapse of rival Jet Airways Ltd in April.

“India is a market that is growing, the economy is growing. Demand for premium products will continue to grow - there is still a gap that we are trying to restore in the market,” said Thng.

Vistara has hired 600 former Jet employees, including over 100 pilots, Thng told reporters in Singapore.

It has taken delivery of seven Boeing 737s from Jet’s lessors and will have two more by August-end on short-term leases of 1 to 4 years.

Vistara will focus on short-haul international routes this year, along with developing its operations within India, where it currently has 24 destinations.

However, once Airbus A321neos and Boeing 787-9s start getting delivered next year, Vistara will have more flexibility to fly longer haul, including non-stop to Europe, the United States and Australia.

While he did not confirm any destinations, Thng said Vistara was prepared to invest in purchasing slots in London.

The loss-making airline has said the launch of international flights, which will give it greater scale to grow, is part of its path to profitability.

The company is still posting losses, but it is moving in the right direction towards profitability, Thng said. The company has committed to grow the fleet to about 60-70 aircraft by 2023.

“But Vistara will not stop growing. We have to continue to grow beyond 2023, we have to make another aircraft order,” Thng said.

“In the second phase, which is the next five years, it is not unthinkable to say that Vistara will reach the three digit (fleet size) given the size of the Indian market, the potential of the market as well,” he added.

Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; writing by Jamie Freed; editing by Gopakumar Warrier