Ministry looks for reasons to keep Kingfisher flying

New Delhi: The endgame appears to be nearing for Kingfisher Airlines, but the government seems keen to keep the airline flying.

The airline, which had already truncated its schedule to a fourth this summer, has now grounded more aircraft. So instead of flying nine Airbus 320 aircraft and 8 ATRs - as it had promised in the summer schedule - it is now flying only six A 320 and five ATRs. The remaining six aircraft are sitting on the ground due to lack of spares. And a strike by pilots continues to cripple operations further.

The airline owes about Rs 290 crore to the Airports Authority of India (AAI) besides its mounting dues to oil companies, other stakeholders as well as salary arrears for about five months to its employees. So why is the government not asking it to either shut down or show a credible revival plan?

 Ministry looks for reasons to keep Kingfisher flying

e ministry under Ajit Singh has been harping on only one theme in this regard: till an airline has a fleet of five aircraft and has shown no serious safety lapse, it cannot be shut down. Reuters

Official sources said today that a safety audit is already underway for Kingfisher and its report should be submitted next week. "But even if the airline is found to have violated some safety conditions, we cannot ask it to shut down. We will instead ask it to take appropriate remedial measures," these sources said.

But doesn't the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) have the power to cancel the flying permit of an airline if it violates safety guidelines? The ministry under Ajit Singh has been harping on only one theme in this regard: till an airline has a fleet of five aircraft and has shown no serious safety lapse, it cannot be shut down.

Today, the fourth day of Kingfisher pilots' protests, many flights were cancelled out of Mumbai and Delhi. Mallya has been unable to pay salaries to staff since February this year. According to a story in Mint newspaper this morning, at least 3,500 Kingfisher employees have left the airline in the last one year and the headcount is down to 4,200 from 7,700 a year ago.

The story quoted an airline official as saying that "Out of the 4,200, 40 percent are not working as the airline closed at least 20 airport stations as part of downsizing its operations."

Meanwhile, Kingfisher's Chief Executive Officer Sanjay Agarwal met the DGCA this evening and admitted to flying only 11 aircraft against the 17 promised earlier. He said Kingfisher flights are down to 85 every day.

But, according to sources, Agarwal gave the same old story: that Kingfisher is in talks with two potential investors for capital infusion. This comes even as there is a growing buzz that Mallya is now mulling a shutdown of the airline to stop its bleeding and curtail further losses.

An aviation safety expert pointed out that it was possible for Mallya to use any negative findings of the ongoing audit to press for shutting shop. Agarwal denied any plans of a shutdown, saying the airline is awaiting recapitalisation and permission for foreign direct investment in aviation.

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Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 11:23:04 IST