India's debt-hit Kingfisher scraps flights as workers strike
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
NEW DELHI, July 14: India´s struggling Kingfisher Airlines cancelled more than three dozen flights on Saturday when frustrated pilots and other workers walked off the job to protest about long-overdue pay.
"Kingfisher Airlines regrets to announce certain flights across its network are cancelled" after employees went on strike, said the firm, which is under pressure from lenders to come up with a turnaround plan to avert bankruptcy.
The airline -- controlled by flamboyant liquor baron Vijay Mallya -- said the workers stayed home "due to salary payments not being credited to the bank accounts of all employees".
"We´re doing everything we can to get the situation back to normal," a spokesman for the airline told AFP.
He said some 40 domestic flights had been cancelled but did not disclose the number of workers who were off the job.
The walkout marked the third time in 12 days that employees have gone on strike to protest the airline´s failure to pay salaries due for the past five months.
"More than 75 percent of employees have actually received their promised salaries on Friday," the spokesman said. "We have further promised the balance of our employees will receive their salaries by Monday," he added.
Kingfisher, which is carrying a debt of $1.4 billion, is flying about 15 aircraft instead of an earlier 64 planes as it battles to contain costs.
It has stopped international operations and now has the smallest market share among Indian airlines at just 5.4 percent after being the country´s second-largest airline.
In May, the airline reported a tripling of its quarterly loss to 11.52 billion rupees ($210 million) from 3.56 billion rupees loss a year earlier.
The carrier has never turned a profit since its launch in 2005.
Mallya, known as the "King of Good Times" for his high-living lifestyle, has been lobbying hard to push the Indian government to allow foreign carriers to buy stakes in domestic airlines.
Foreign direct investment in aviation is seen as a lifeline to companies such as Kingfisher, which analysts believe needs up to $600 million to survive.
India´s airline industry was once a symbol of the country´s economic progress but now most of its airlines are struggling due to high fuel costs, fierce competition and inadequate airport infrastructure.
The problems of Kingfisher are reckoned to be the worst, partly due to overly rapid expansion. Debt-laden state-run carrier Air India is also struggling badly.