DGCA to go in for safety surveillance of all operating aircraft of airline
Facing turbulent times due to large-scale flight disruptions and financial problems, private carrier Kingfisher Airlines was on Tuesday given a 24-hour deadline by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to submit a "revised and realistic" flight schedule. However, the regulator ruled out any immediate punitive action in a bid to avert further hardship to travellers.
"The airlines will have to file a new schedule instead of a truncated one in the next 24 hours," DGCA chief E.K. Bharat Bhushan told journalists after a nearly two-hour meeting with top officials of Kingfisher, including its Chief Executive Officer Sanjay Aggarwal. Mr. Bhushan said the DGCA has decided to go for a safety surveillance of all of their operating aircraft.
The airline informed the DGCA that it was able to operate only 28 of the 64 aircraft in its fleet. The DGCA chief said that on the basis of 28 aircraft, the airline should be able to operate about 175 flights daily. It has cancelled at least 40 flights across its national network on the fifth successive day on Tuesday, leaving its travellers high and dry. Leading tour operators said that domestic fares have gone up by 10 to 30 per cent on an average over the past few days.
Badly in need of immediate infusion of funds, Kingfisher Airlines also has Income Tax authorities breathing down its neck. I-T authorities have frozen its bank accounts, prompting the airline to blame the department for disruption in its schedule.
Asked if the DGCA was thinking of taking action against the airline, Mr. Bhushan said, "Let us not talk of punitive action at the moment. We are more interested to see the airline back on its feet. Our priority is not to punish because of the immediate difficulties the travelling public will have to face." Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh, after having ruled out any bailout package to the troubled airline, said the government will have to hear them out.
Under Rule 140(A) of the Aircraft Rules, 1937, airlines need prior approval of the DGCA to curtail their flight schedules. Any violation can amount to cancellation of the flight permit of an airline, as an extreme measure. In its hey day, the airline used to operate nearly 400 flights daily.
"As far as their revival plans are concerned, they do have some plans….but I would not like to look at it now as it involves a lot of leased aircraft. They themselves say they are expecting finance from banks, so I would not like to speculate at this stage,’’ Mr. Bhushan said. The airline informed the DGCA that it was expecting relief from banks.
Mr. Agarwal said the airline hoped to return to its normal schedule in the next five to seven days. "The airline has sufficient number of pilots and no flight has been cancelled because of shortage of pilots. Passengers have been kept informed about the cancellation and bunching flights," Mr. Aggarwal said. The airline has also assured the DGCA that the pending salaries of its employees will be paid by the end of month.
Kingfisher owes over Rs. 7,000 crore to an 18 bank consortium led by State Bank of India. Lenders would meet again next week to finalise a restructuring package. Kingfisher reported losses of Rs. 444 crore in the third quarter of this year - up from Rs. 254 crore a year ago. Kingfisher's current debt is close to. Rs 7,057.08 crore.