Vistara CEO Phee Teik Yeoh: I’m here to stay


New Delhi, Jan 10:

The Chief Executive Officer of Vistara Airlines, Phee Teik Yeoh, has no immediate plans of leaving India despite the airline hiring Sanjiv Kapur as its Chief Strategy and Commercial Officer.

“Banish any thoughts,” were Phee Teik Yeoh’s first words when BusinessLine met him in his 10th floor office in Gurgaon late on Friday evening. There has been intense speculation on Phee Teik’s imminent departure with Kapur coming on board.

Vistara, which is the brand name of the domestic airline in which Singapore Airline has a 49 per cent stake with Tata Sons holding the remaining, completed one year of operations on January 9.

“A lot of people read a lot into Sanjiv Kapoor is coming in….. does that mean Phee Teik is preparing to be on his way out. I like it here. I am here to stay. My mission is not accomplished yet,” he explained. Kapur, the former Chief Operating officer of the Delhi based low cost airline SpiceJet is to join Vistara in February this year.

The mission that Phee Teik is out to accomplish is to make the one year old Vistara a world renowned airline of choice. “We are India’s best. We are not yet the world’s best. That is my mission,” he said on the eve of the airline’s first anniversary.

Asked whether that means Vistara will be at par with Singapore Airlines, he ducked a direct reply saying merely If I want to be the world’s best there is only one world’s best. “That is the direction we are taking,” he added.

Getting into details of hiring Kapur, Phee Teik explained that he led an 11-member team from Singapore Airlines to help set up Vistara, all of whom will go back once their task has been accomplished. “I am saying 11 because I am the 12th one and I am here to stay,” he smiles.

He confirmed that Vistara will “as quickly as possible” start international operations if the Indian Government is to remove the 5/20 rule. He was quick to add though that gearing up for international operations is not a piece of cake. “In fact, it is more complex than gearing up for domestic operations,” he says.

The 5/20 rule stipulates that a domestic carrier must have completed five years of domestic operations and have a fleet of 20 aircraft to be eligible to fly abroad. At present, Vistara does not qualify on both counts.