The chief executive officer of Vistara (UK, Delhi International) has moved to assert his airline's independence from Air India (AI, Mumbai International) ahead of a planned merger. Vinod Kannan said this week that the carrier would continue to operate as a stand-alone airline until the merger is completed, and even then it is not known if it would continue to operate as a separate entity or be subsumed into Air India.

Kannan was speaking to media in Dubai this week to mark a route launch. "At this stage, until the regulatory approvals come through, Vistara will continue operating separately. We are operating independently of Air India when it comes to commercial or customer focus because that is the deal as competitors," he said.

Air India and Vistara are owned by Tata Sons, which recently announced merger plans as part of a broader shakeup of the Tata airlines (the conglomerate also includes Air India Express and AirAsia India). When discussing the Air India/Vistara merger last month, Air India CEO Campbell Wilson suggested it would take up to 12 months to complete. When the Tata airline reorganisation is complete, the group will enjoy a 58% share of the Indian aviation market.

When asked about the long-term future of the Vistara brand, Kannan said discussions were ongoing. "Ultimately, there will be a much bigger Air India, a combined entity that will incorporate all four brands that the Tatas currently own," he said.

Ahead of the merger, Kannan is continuing to grow Vistara, opening new routes with a specific focus on India-Gulf state links and also awaiting the delivery of sixteen Airbus narrowbodies and four B787-9s. He has been less clear on reports that Air India is close to finalising an order for up to 500 aircraft. “Air India is handling that. I have no clarity on that," he said. "As I said, the priority for us is to get the 20 pending aircraft to make sure that we expand - that would be the primary goal."