Vistara, the Indian affiliate of Singapore Airlines Ltd., will become the country’s first carrier to offer in-flight Wi-Fi and streaming services on its new Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliners, in what could boost its ambitions as a premium airline in one of the world’s busiest markets.
Passengers will be able to access sites like Facebook and messaging service WhatsApp, as well as live-stream cricket matches, by far the most popular sport in India, though watching games may eat up a lot of data, Vistara Chief Strategy Officer Vinod Kannan told reporters. He said pricing of the service will be decided in the coming weeks.
Singapore Airlines hopes Vistara will help loosen the grip Emirates airline and Etihad Airways PJSC have over lucrative routes between India and Europe and the U.S., as intensifying competition from budget carriers eats into its home market in Southeast Asia. The Singaporean company Friday warned of “significant challenges” because of the coronavirus outbreak and this week it announced it will suspend scores of flights in its global network because of weak demand.
Vistara will receive the first of its six ordered Dreamliners later this month and is considering adding more planes as it embarks on an aggressive expansion plan in overseas markets, Bloomberg News reported in January. The carrier, a joint venture between Singapore Airlines and Tata Group, started flying in 2015 and currently operates 32 Airbus A320s and seven Boeing 737s.
Vistara projects itself as a premium product in a market dominated by low-cost carriers like InterGlobe Aviation Ltd.’s IndiGo, though it has cut back on some frills and business-class seats. A partnership between Panasonic Avionics Corp. and Nelco Ltd. is providing satellite connectivity services to customers flying into India and over Indian airspace. Vistara is set to be its first client, and Kannan said it will also offer Wi-Fi on Airbus SE A321 jets it has on order.
India planned to allow in-flight Wi-Fi as far back as 2016, but red tape and concern about security delayed the approval process. India’s aviation ministry has since worked with the telecommunications department to offer in-flight connectivity for voice, data and video services by amending provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act and associated rules.
Now-defunct Jet Airways India Ltd. and Vistara had experimented with one-way wireless streaming technology that enabled passengers to play a selection of video and audio content directly on their phones and other personal devices. The latest Wi-Fi service may be offered in both international and domestic routes — Vistara flies to 36 destinations with more than 200 flights a day — on planes equipped with the technology, Kannan said.
There are around 500 million internet users in India, which has a population of 1.3 billion people, who are increasingly turning online to do everything from shopping to making TikTok videos, using some of the world’s cheapest data plans.