OUR ABILITY TO QUICKLY ADAPT TO CHANGE HAS REWARDED US IN MANY WAYS

Aviation Update Editor in conversation with Mr. Vinod Kannan, Chief Commercial Officer discussed about the impact of COVID on the Indian aviation industry and Vistara.

 

What were the measures taken by Vistara to fight the COVID-19 situation? How hard was the blow of the pandemic for the airline?

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected the aviation industry across the world and the scenario in India is not any different. With temporary suspension of operations during the nationwide lockdown there was along period of no revenues that led to depleting cash reserves, while some of the significant expenses/fixed costs continued which has resulted in a severe financial impact.

To deal with the situation we have been pursuing several measures to reduce non-customer facing operating expenditures and making every effort to conserve cash wherever possible. This includes renegotiating various contracts with partners, vendors and lessors. We also had to make the difficult decision of temporarily reducing some of our staff cost. During the lockdown when commercial operations were put on pause, we quickly beefed up our cargo operations to generate some revenue. In fact, we deployed our brand-new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, in addition to our narrow-body aircraft, for cargo operations as well.

 Once domestic flights resumed, we deployed our Dreamliner for domestic commercial operations on viable routes with an aim to efficiently utilize our resources. Besides, we were the first carrier to introduce another ancillary service that offers the option of booking additional seats to encourage travellers to fly with greater confidence and peace of mind. We also operated a few international repatriation flights under the government's Vande Bharat Mission and some charter flights as well. We have also started to fly to London under the transport bubble agreement and will leverage all such opportunities in future.

We have also been extremely conscious about the safety of our customers and have introduced several tech-enabled processes to reduce physical contact between our staff and the customers. This is the need of the hour and is going to be the focus of the entire industry for a long time. Several significant investments are being made in this direction.

Do you think that flexibility is required in the airline policies or a longer-term strategy would be of any help?

In today’s VUCA world, not just airlines but businesses across sectors need to be more agile.  As a relatively young airline, we have been nimble in our approach since the early stages of our journey. Our ability to quickly adapt to change has rewarded us in many ways. Even in the current circumstances we stayed focused on our set objectives and had many remarkable achievements. Some of them are:

  1. Delivery and deployment of our first A321neo with fully flat beds in business class
  2. Delivery of our second 787-9 Dreamliner and launch of service to London
  3. Launch of our unique in-flight safety video which got us a lot of appreciation
  4. Commencement of a number of customer centric initiatives such as Vistara Upgrades program, launch of priority call centre for CV Gold and Platinum members of Club Vistara, our Frequent Flyer program and much more

 

Besides this, our long-term strategy remains unchanged – which is to densify our domestic network and expand globally to become one of the world’s best airlines. There may be temporary modifications to our course, but we are confident of getting there eventually.

What other challenges and opportunities do you see for your airline currently? What are the current hurdles faced by the airline sector across the globe?

As mentioned above, since the resumption of domestic operations on 25 May 2020, air travel demand has been rather low for now. However, we are confident that demand for air travel will start returning to the market soon, though in a graded manner. Our customer survey concluded in June 2020 revealed that 65 percent of the respondents expected to take their next Vistara flight before December 2020. 25 percent of them indicated that they would fly to visit their friends and relatives, while 35 percent of the respondents expected to fly for business.

The entire industry has also come together to rebuild passenger confidence in flying, which is already showing positive signs and helping fuel demand. Our campaign #FlyingFeelSafeAgain, which was very well received, aimed to generate awareness about air travel being the safest mode of travel during the Covid-19 crisis. We are glad to observe that tourism has started opening up in some parts of the world, which is another positive sign. Flights under India’s ‘transport bubble’ with some of the countries present us the opportunity to enable essential business travel or to reunite families and friends. For long-haul flights, travellers are now increasingly preferring to fly non-stop to their destinations to avoid unnecessary exposure to COVID-19 in transit. This concern is well addressed by Vistara that aims to connect more destinations across geographies with direct flights from India.

Post-pandemic, how early do you expect a recovery? What would be the aftermath effects on the travel and tourism industry?

Following the COVID outbreak there has been a natural focus on stepping up safety and hygiene measures across various touch points. Our survey had also revealed that fear of exposure during air travel is one of the key concerns among travellers. In a post-pandemic world, touchless is going play a key role in ensuring safety throughout the passenger’s journey and will be a deciding factor for the customers to choose an airline. At Vistara, we were already on our digital transformation journey which has only been fast tracked due to the pandemic. Initiative taken by Vistara like casting of kiosk screens on passenger mobile, scan & fly, Self-tagging, self-baggage drop, self-boarding, e-gates, biometrics/face recognition, e-boarding passes and bag tags are all touchless solutions which will go a long way to build confidence in flying again. Through all our preventive measures we want to make the passenger experience in our aircrafts as safe as possible to boost passengers’ confidence to fly. 

 

In our customer survey 69% of the respondents rated Vistara 8/10 or higher in terms of their confidence in the airline for ensuring their health and safety while travelling. Our preventive measures and safety efforts have also been recognised across the industry.

How’s the relationship with your colleagues? How would they describe you as? How Vistara has made WFH effective for employees keeping up their morale?

It is difficult for an airline to switch to the ‘work from home’ (WFH) mode, as majority of employees either have to fly or are required at the airport for operations. However, for the staff at our corporate office and others who could work remotely, we adopted the approach and modified some of our internal processes to make the transition quick. Vistara employees have seamlessly adapted to the change and today, we continue to operate together as a team just as usual.

Communication becomes extremely important in such times, and we have been keeping our colleagues updated on all developments. We have been leveraging technology to stay connected with great transparency, whether from an HR standpoint or the company’s Leadership. We’re constantly reassuring our colleagues in every way possible about the organisation’s commitment to its people and that our focus is on the preservation of jobs, even as we had to take the painful step of reducing staff costs temporarily. The support we have got from Vistara employees has been overwhelming, and it demonstrates our collective strength.

We also ran an internal communication initiative, #InThisTogether, in the last few months to establish a sense of connection and belonging among employees working remotely, boost staff morale, and foster engagement and collaboration among all. The initiatives and programs under this campaign aimed to inform, recognise, and engage with every member of the Vistara family. During the lockdown, we also rolled out more than 30 online courses for employees to upskill themselves.

In nutshell, our intent, purpose, vision and mission help to unite and energise our employees across the organisation.