Vistara’s Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) Vinod Kannan will take over as the airline’s chief executive officer (CEO) from January 1 as incumbent Leslie Thng returns to Singapore Airlines in a senior role.
The CEO transition was announced on Tuesday, a day before submission of financial bids for Air India.
Thng, who is on deputation from Singapore Airlines, took charge as Vistara CEO in October 2017. Last July, the airline’s board approved his reappointment for a period of three years, beginning October. However, Thng’s colleagues don’t see his exit as a surprise and said this is in line with Singapore Airlines’ job rotation policies.
“Singapore Airlines is committed to the success of Vistara, together with our joint venture partner Tata Group. Kannan’s appointment has been approved by the Vistara board and is part of a regular renewal of the senior management at the airline. Thng will return to Singapore Airlines in a senior management role,” the airline said in a statement.
On Thng’s watch, Vistara placed orders for 50 Airbus 320/321neos and six Boeing 787 MAX aircraft. The airline’s international operations, too, began during his tenure.
“Kannan has been with Vistara since June 2019 and knows the Indian market well. As its CEO, his immediate task will be to drive international expansion further and stabilise the domestic business. A lot will, however, depend upon Tata Group’s strategy for aviation. While the Tatas are front runners to acquire Air India, we don’t know yet whether or how soon they will integrate the group airlines,” said Ameya Joshi, aviation expert and founder of aviation blog Network Thoughts.
Currently, Kannan looks after network planning, revenue management, customer experience, and cabin service functions. He started his career with Singapore Airlines in 2001 and held various senior positions, including that of CCO of the group's budget airline Scoot. He has also handled global network planning and spent eight years running operations in Indonesia, Italy, and Saudi Arabia.
In a statement, Vistara Chairman Bhaskar Bhat said, “ Kannan will lead Vistara in its next phase of growth building on the strong foundation laid by Thng. The company continues to benefit from the strong commitment of the two partners - Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines.”
In addition to Thng and Kannan, Singapore Airlines has deputed two other executives in Vistara. This includes Nam Kung Sia, senior vice-president (ground services) and Hamish Maxwell, senior vice-president (flight operations).
Tatas own 51 per cent and Singapore Airlines owns the remainder in their joint venture. The two companies infused Rs 750 crore into the airline and were allotted fresh shares in July.
Vistara’s net loss reduced to Rs 1,612 crore in 2020-21 (FY21), from Rs 1,814 crore in 2019-20 due to foreign exchange gain. Its revenue declined 52 per cent to Rs 2,243 crore in FY21, from Rs 4,738 crore a year earlier.