Thursday, March 15, 2012

India's Kingfisher chief seeks end to pilot strike

The chief of India's debt-laden Kingfisher Airlines met Thursday with striking pilots to end a row over unpaid wages that has meant the cancellation of scores of flights, an official said.

A passenger inquires at the Kingfisher Airlines booking counter in the domestic terminal in Mumbai in February 2012. The chief of India's debt-laden Kingfisher Airlines met Thursday with striking pilots to end a row over unpaid wages that has meant the cancellation of scores of flights, an official said.

Vijay Mallya, who also runs a global liquor empire, is "in a close-door meeting with the pilots", a company official told AFP, asking not to be named.

The official did not disclose details of the meeting, held in the capital New Delhi, or the number of pilots involved in the strike.

The pilots' strike has forced the cash-strapped carrier to cancel more flights on top of those it scrapped last month to reduce expenses.

Kingfisher, which earlier this week announced it was curtailing its widebody overseas flights in order to lower costs, had initially announced it was cutting its daily flight schedule to 175 from around 250.

The pilots' strike has further reduced the number of flights to around 100 a day.

At least 60 pilots have already left the airline to fly with rivals according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

The carrier has never turned a profit since its launch in 2005 and owes millions of dollars to suppliers, lenders and staff.

Its bank accounts have been frozen by Indian authorities due to the non-payment of taxes and it has been dropped from a vital global payments and booking system run by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The airline's net loss widened sharply to 4.44 billion rupees ($88 million) in the three months to December from a loss of 2.54 billion rupees a year earlier, while its debt totals at least $1.3 billion.

India's airline industry -- once a symbol of the country's economic progress -- is now plagued by high fuel prices, fierce competition, price wars and inadequate airport infrastructure, with Kingfisher one of the worst-hit firms.

The airline has said "positive and immediate action is being taken on all fronts to cut costs".

Kingfisher's market share has slid to fifth position at 11.3 percent, from second earlier, according to data on the civil aviation regulator's website.

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