Saturday, December 17, 2011

India: Kingfisher Airlines ejects 60 pilots in frantic bid to halve crew

The ailing Kingfisher Airlines is in a tearing hurry to shrink its crew size, according to aviation industry sources. On December 13, the airline asked at least 60 pilots to leave within 48 hours. They were not even permitted to serve out their notice periods, sources said.

“One pilot was in London when the airline called up and asked him to leave within a day. It has been a very abrupt move,” a source said seeking anonymity.

When contacted, the airline itself neither confirmed nor denied the alleged sacking of pilots.

A pilot who quit the airline last week, however, pointed out that Kingfisher has made it clear it will downsize further. “Apart from the 60 who were sacked abruptly, another 100 pilots are already serving their notice periods and will leave gradually. The airline wants to almost halve its fleet size to 350 to 400 from about 700.”

Another pilot said many of Kingfisher pilots are still awaiting their November salaries. “After we decided to announce the salary delay over the PA (public address) systems during all flights across India on the 4th and 5th of December, the management got jittery and released our October salaries. But the payments for November have not been made. We are told they will be released on the 20th, but it seems unlikely.”

Some pilots alleged that the airline had been refusing permission for them to form a union. Unconfirmed speculation is that several Kingfisher pilots are keen to join two rival carriers IndiGo and Go Air which are expanding and in need to pilots.

Airport lounge whispers even hint that Kingfisher CEO Sanjay Aggarwal might be on his way out, on the heels of the human resources head.

But, a Kingfisher spokesperson scotched such talk.

Kingfisher’s executive vice-president (engineering and operations), Hitesh Patel, has been looking after all salary-related issues.

Industry sources expect the troubled airline to seek short-term working capital funding of about Rs500 crore from a lending consortium comprising 13 banks. The consortium had picked up about 24% equity in the company and its total exposure so far stands at nearly Rs7,000 crore.

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