Ready to pay salaries in next few days: Kingfisher
Kingfisher has been saddled with a huge loss of Rs 8,000 crore and a debt burden of another over Rs 7,000 crore
New Delhi: Kingfisher Airlines, which has declared a partial lockout, on Tuesday said it would resume operations in a few days and the backlog of March salary would be given to its employees soon.
Top officials of the airline, who met DGCA chief Arun Mishra, also exuded confidence that foreign airlines and other investors were ready to invest in the beleaguered carrier.
The airline had declared a partial lockout last night, grounding all its flights, after its engineers and pilots struck work on Friday to protest non-payment of salaries since March.
A representative of the protesters said, "The airline management has made such promises earlier too but not fulfilled them. So, we have adopted a wait and watch policy."
The airline CEO Sanjay Agarwal, who along with Executive Vice President Hitesh Patel met DGCA chief Arun Mishra, blamed a small section of employees for the mess, saying it had led to suspension of all operations till October four.
"We are hopeful that we will resolve the situation in the next few days. We will take a call on October four on resumption of our operations," Agarwal said after his meeting with the DGCA.
The airline would be using ten aircraft -- seven Airbus A-320s and three turbo-prop ATRs, to resume flights.
He said the March salary has been paid to nearly half of the employees and the remaining ones would get it over the "next few days".
Over 80 pilots and 270 engineers have been on intermittent strikes over the past few months.
Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh on Tuesday made it clear that the airline would not be allowed to fly if safety was compromised.
"We will have to look at what their plans are....We will take a decision after reviewing the situation," he said.
Asked about their efforts to woo FDI into the crisis-ridden airline, Agarwal said "the policy has just been changed. We are re-engaging with (foreign) airlines and non- airline investors with whom we had been speaking earlier. There is still very serious interest in Kingfisher."
Agarwal said he had informed the DGCA that "it will still take 3-4 months to get the money into the airline, given the complexity of transactions. But we are confident that this will materialise soon."
The Kingfisher CEO said, "our promoters and the UB Group have put in Rs 1,150 crore over the past five months. ... Everyone wants the airline to run."
About the airline's talks on de-freezing of bank accounts by the Central Board of Direct Taxes and Central Board of Excise and Customs, Agarwal said "we are hopeful that the issues will be resolved in the next few days. It is no one's case, including the banks', to see the airline shutting down. Our talks are progressing well."
On the concerns of aviation regulator DGCA over safety issues, Agarwal said "we assured the regulator that safety is not being compromised. After all, they have been involved with our (safety) audits day in and day out. There is no safety risk and the airplanes are safe.
"But (with the engineers going on strike) we proactively cancelled flights so as not to inconvenience our passengers."
Asked whether they would talk to MRO specialist firm AirWorks or IndiGo to get the aircraft certified for flights, the Kingfisher CEO said he was hopeful that issues with the airline's own engineering team would be sorted out soon.
"We will find a solution with our own team" and talking to other firms was "not a preferred route though we were exploring that option also," he said.
At his meeting with the DGCA, Agarwal briefed about the financial problems facing the carrier as well as the next steps being taken to restore normalcy.
The aviation regulator wanted to be "fully satisfied" with their operational parameters once they resumed operations. It asked the airline to "explain their operational preparedness" again when they resume flights as safety was of prime concern, DGCA sources said.
The airline had last night said it was forced to declare a "partial lock-out" following a series of "protracted and unabated incidents of violence, criminal intimidation, assault, wrongful restraint and other illegal acts" by some employees.
Kingfisher has been saddled with a huge loss of Rs 8,000 crore and a debt burden of another over Rs 7,000 crore which it has not serviced since January.
Several of its aircraft have been either taken away by its lessors or grounded by the Airports Authority of India for non-payment of dues during the past few months.
Kingfisher is also understood to have informed DGCA that it has been in talks with the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) and Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) to de -freeze its bank accounts to enable them pay the salaries.
About Rs 60 crore were stuck in these accounts, which would go a long way to clear salary and other dues, sources said.
The airline officials have also informed the aviation regulator that some Indian banks have offered to help it out, but only after the company finds fresh investors and gets investments.