Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hellish week for Indian aviation: No fuel, no food and fuming flyers. Financial crises engulf two major carriers, leaving passengers all at sea.

Everywhere you turn, one of India's fastest growing sectors -- aviation -- is in a mess.

And that's despite global aviation body IATA saying recently that India’s aviation market expansion was the strongest in the world. Except for low-cost carrier IndiGo, Air India, Kingfisher, Jet Airways and Spicejet are all expected to post losses for the quarter ending September.

On November 9 a government panel agreed to provide sovereign guarantee to national carrier Air India’s debt obligation -- which totals Rs 19,000 crore -- towards aircraft loan repayments till 2020.

Earlier in the week it emerged that Air India couldn't even pay for its aloo paratha, let alone its aircraft.

Tajsats, India's largest flight caterer, claims dues of Rs 45 crore and is threatening to put Air India on cash-and-carry mode.

Meanwhile Kingfisher Airlines, a private carrier owned by tycoon Vijay Mallya, recently shut down its budget wing; Kingfisher has not posted profits since the airline's inception in 2005, and is now capital-starved.

State-run oil firm Hindustan Petroleum, the largest fuel supplier to Kingfisher, temporarily suspended fuel supply for the second time in four months because the airline has outstanding fuel bills of Rs 130 crore.

This week thousands of would-be passengers across the country found their travel plans in disarray when Kingfisher canceled 50 flights a day, up from the 34 announced earlier in the week. 

The canceled sectors are on main domestic and a few international routes.

What does this mean for passengers?

Only the worst. It means that travelers with confirmed seats are unlikely to find their aircraft leaving on time. They might even find there's no food on board. And with a shortage of seats now, competitors ticket prices are going up.

Customers feel like they're playing a blind game of chance on flight booking websites. Experts like Rajesh Pratap Rudy -- pilot, former Union minister for civil aviation and a BJP member of Parliament -- believe India's aviation sector needs a major policy rethink, reforms and initiatives to level the playing field between competing private and public players.

All of which is cold comfort for the crowd at the departure gate.

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