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Kingfisher Arlines management threatens pilots of shutdown

MUMBAI: For the first time since its troubles began, theKingfisher Airlines management has threatened a shutdown at a meeting with its pilots in Mumbai. CEO Sanjay Aggarwal made the statement on Thursday in response to the pilots’ stand that they may refuse to operate flights if they are not paid their salaries. Despite the warning, a majority of Mumbai-based pilots called in sick on Saturday, but the curtailed flight operations were not affected.

To add to the airline’s woes, the service tax department has frozen its 40 bank accounts for the fourth time in the last four months. The airline, which owes Rs 40 crore to the department, failed to meet the February 29 deadline for payment of dues. The Kingfisher spokesperson did not comment.

Despite all its problems, the airline’s CEO put up an “arrogant front” during Thursday’s meeting and was non-committal on clearing salaries that have been withheld for three months now, said a source.

On Friday, civil aviation minister Ajit Singh had said if the Directorate General of Civil Aviation(DGCA) feels that the airline’s inability to pay its staff could affect safety or if the Airports Authority of India (AAI) refuses to issue more credit to the beleaguered carrier, its operating licence could be temporarily suspended. The airline can restart operations once these issues have been sorted out, said Singh.

Despite all its problems, the airline’s CEO put up an “arrogant front” during Thursday’s meeting and was non-committal on clearing salaries that have been withheld for three months now, said a source. The aggressive stand came as a surprise to pilots, especially as only last Sunday, airline chairman Vijay Mallya-in a letter sent to his employees post-midnight-had assured them that they would get their December salary within the week. He had also sought their continued support to tide over the crisis.

Volte-face

On Thursday, the airline management did a volte-face. “At one point the CEO even told us that we could quit the airline if we wanted to,” a pilot said. What shocked the pilots though was Aggarwal’s talk of a probable closure, though the statement seemed aimed at cutting the pilots down to size. “At the meeting, a pilot said airlines pay salaries only when a gun is put to their head. He implied that pilots may refuse to fly if their December salaries were not released,” the pilot added. “Aggarwal categorically told us that if we refused to fly, the management would shut down the airline. We suggested that the airline could give us post-dated cheques, but Aggarwal turned down the idea, saying the board does not want to be held liable in the matter.”

A senior Kingfisher commander said: “The one conclusion most of us have arrived at following Thursday’s meeting is that we are being forced to quit so that they can shut down the airline or maybe operate only a handful of flights. This way, they can blame us for its closure.” The pilots have sought a meeting with Mallya, but the airline had not responded at the time of going to press.

Over the last two days, Kingfisher Airline pilots, who are not unionized, have been individually deciding on their course of action. Two ATR commanders quit and joined a low-cost carrier on Friday. Kingfisher currently has around 510 pilots, more than enough to handle its skeletal flight schedule. According to the revised flight schedule it submitted to the DGCA last week, it plans to operate 199 flights a day with 28 aircraft in its fleet. “After the airline merged with Air Deccan, it had excess pilots and then again, they curtailed the flight schedule substantially. So despite the recent exodus and protests, flights have not been affected,” said a source.

On Saturday, a majority of pilots based in Mumbai refused to operate flights, calling in sick. “The flights were largely operated by about six management pilots,” said a source. The effect was not very visible as the airport was scheduled to be closed from 11.30am-4.30pm for maintenance work and all airlines had bunched their flights to morning or evening operations. Kingfisher had scheduled to operate 22 flights from Mumbai and till the time of going to press, most of the flights were operational. On Thursday, the airline’s technicians had gone on a strike protesting the delay in salary payment.

At the airline’s Bangalore base, around 20% employees have quit. “Many others are waiting to go but not before they get a couple of months’ salary arrears,” a source told TOI. From Friday, the airline stopped giving transport allowance to its staff to reach the airport. “Most of the junior employees have no money to spend on transport. They cannot spend on taxi, especially if they have to take them late at night to get to the airport for 6am duty. So many are calling in sick,” the source added.

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Posted by on Mar 4 2012. Filed under Top Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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