The number of airline brands operating in India is set to reduce with Tata Sons, owners of Air India (AI, Mumbai Int'l), expected to announce inside a week that Vistara (UK, Delhi Int'l) will be merged into the Air India brand within 12 months. This follows the recent news that AirAsia India (I5, Bangalore Int'l) would also be integrated into Tata-owned Air India Express (IX, Mumbai Int'l).

According to a report in India's Economic Times, Air India has reached an agreement with Singapore Airlines (SQ, Singapore Changi), their Vistara joint venture partner, which will see Singapore's stake in Vistara drop from 49% to between 20-25% with a concurrent drop in board representation. Vistara will then likely be merged into Air India. Singapore Airlines, keen to develop hubs outside their home base, has been pleased with its investment in Vistara, which has grown to become India's second-biggest domestic airline in a decade.

"There are growth limitations based on the Singapore market. We are mitigating some of that, through all kinds of partnerships" Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong said at an investor briefing last week. "Our multi-hub strategy is really to enable us to participate directly in the growth in that particular region or country, in a way that we cannot do so if we are just based in Singapore. Singapore Airlines will never be able to operate from India to domestic India, nor to so many international points from India. We also look at it from the perspective of how it can complement the Singapore hub, with synergies between the two countries. That is the reason why we have invested in Vistara."

At the same briefing, Goh wouldn't comment on what would happen to the airline's India ambitions if Vistara's full integration into Air India did go ahead. This week, a Singapore Airlines spokesperson told ch-aviation that discussions with Tata were ongoing.

Separately, Tata earlier this month acquired full ownership of AirAsia India, buying the remaining 16.33% held by the AirAsia Aviation Group. At the time, Campbell Wilson, CEO and managing director of Air India, said Tata would work on building a single Air India Group low-cost carrier over a forecast 12-month period. Initial plans include integrating AirAsia India into Air India Express.

Tata Sons are expected to pick up operational and financial benefits from operating fewer airline brands, with an official announcement on the matter widely expected within the week.

Meanwhile, Air India has also confirmed that it will join the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA), ending speculation sparked by their attendance at the trade group's general assembly in Bangkok last week. AAPA Director General Subhas Menon said that the airline would add considerable weight to the talks and negotiations the group engages in.