Striking pilots and engineers of India’s Kingfisher Airlines have accepted a three-month portion of their eight months of unpaid salaries and agreed to return to work, even as management struggles to get its suspended Scheduled Operator’s Permit reinstated. Still, civil aviation minister Ajit Singh warned that paying salaries alone would not guarantee that Kingfisher would fly again. “I think the Kingfisher problem is much bigger; even if they pay the salaries today, are they going to take off and fly? I don`t think so,” he said.
After failing to reach an agreement with striking engineers and pilots who have not been paid since March this year, India’s Kingfisher Airlines has effectively grounded itself until at least October 12 by locking out staff. Kingfisher’s management, led by owner Vijay Mallya, is trying to renegotiate some $2.49 billion in debt with creditors while it struggles with serious cash-flow problems, evidenced by $1.9 billion in losses for the first half of this year.
The western Indian state of Gujarat has what amounts to its first regional airline with the launch of Deccan Shuttles by G.R. Gopinath, who founded India’s first low-cost airline, Air Deccan, before selling it to Kingfisher Airlines. Scheduled operations started on August 27 using a pair of nine-seat Cessna 208B Grand Caravans. The turboprop singles ply the Ahmedabad-Surat-Bhavnagar and Ahmedabad-Kandla routes, marking the first-ever direct air service between provincial cities in this large state.
In a reversal from an earlier policy, which gave state-owned Air India preference over bilateral aviation agreements for international routes, the Indian government will now open access to private airlines.
India’s Kingfisher Airlines is attributing the grounding of 15 aircraft and de-leasing of another two to “rationalization” of its network to counter deep financial losses. “The airline industry in India is going through a tough period due to high costs and lower yields,” said Kingfisher Airlines CEO Sanjay Aggarwal. “We are no exception. We are taking steps to improve our financial performance and are rationalizing network, dropping unprofitable flights and expediting fleet reconfiguration.”
Avions de Transport Regional (ATR) is a little over a year away from completing certification of the new -600 version of its ATR 72 twin turboprop, with the smaller ATR 42-600 due to follow just a few months later in early 2011. Despite the slow sales environment in the air transport sector, the European airframer has been able to log 54 orders for the 70-seat ATR 72 and seven for the 50-seat ATR 42 from eight customers in seven countries.
India-based Deccan Aviation is offering on-demand helicopter “shuttle” flights between Bangalore’s international airport and Electronic City and HAL airport, two business districts that are a two-hour drive from the city. Per-person prices for one-way trips are close to $130 for Electronic City and $105 for HAL airport.
India’s Kingfisher Airlines announced it will launch its first international service on September 3 between Bangalore and London Heathrow Airport. Kingfisher will serve the route with a new Airbus A330-200, the first of 10 on which it holds delivery positions. Indian law requires that an airline operate domestically for five years before authorities consider it for an international air transport license.
India’s Air Deccan operated its inaugural revenue flight with one of six 48-seat ATR 42-320s on August 25, between its home city of Bangalore and Hubli, in the southwestern province of Karnataka. A second flight marked the start of regular service between the regional cities of Hyderabad and Vijayawada the next day. The new airline took delivery of its first leased ATR on August 8. The second arrived in Bangalore two weeks later.
India appears to have ruled out any early prospect of increased international competition among its airlines. The move will disappoint recent start-up operators looking for a relaxation of current policy that bars Indian carriers with less than five years’ experience from international routes.
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