Jet Airways crisis: More planes grounded, pilots threaten strike

Government asks banks to rescue cash-strapped airline as PM Modi seeks to avert job losses weeks before elections.

    Jet Airways crisis: More planes grounded, pilots threaten strike
    Saddled with debt of more than $1bn, Jet is struggling to stay aloft [File: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]

    India's government has called for an emergency meeting as cash-strapped Jet Airways plunged into deeper crisis with angry passengers demanding refunds and pilots threatening to go on strike over unpaid salaries.

    India's Civil Aviation minister, Suresh Prabhu, asked his officials to call for a meeting to discuss the grounding of flights, advance bookings, cancellations, refunds, and any potential safety issues regarding India's oldest private airline.

    Saddled with debt of more than $1bn, Jet is struggling to stay aloft. It has delayed payments to banks, suppliers, pilots and lessors - some of whom have started cancelling their lease agreements with the airline.

    Jet, which employs more than 20,000 people, has now been forced to ground a total of 78 of its 119 aircraft after failing to pay lenders and aircraft lessors.

    Pilots will stop flying jet planes from 1st April 2019 if the company does not disburse due salaries and take concrete decisions

    A spokesperson for the pilots union

    In a statement released late on Tuesday announcing its latest grounding, the firm said it was "actively engaging" with lenders to secure fresh liquidity and wanted to "minimise disruption".

    The firm is also facing pressure from its many pilots who have not been paid on time, with unions threatening that they will walk off the job if salaries do not arrive soon.

    "Pilots will stop flying jet planes from 1st April 2019 if the company does not disburse due salaries and take concrete decisions," a spokesperson for the National Aviator's Guild, a pilots union, told AFP.

    Flights cancelled

    The problems with India's number-two carrier come as other airlines struggle to turn a profit despite the sector rapidly expanding in the country in recent years.

    The groundings have forced Jet to cancel hundreds of flights, some at the last minute, leaving passengers stranded. Many have taken to social media to voice their anger.

    Jet's social media accounts have been flooded with often suddenly stranded passengers demanding information, new flight tickets and refunds.

    "@jetairways We book our flights in advance so that we save on travel cost and you are sending cancellation [message] now?", read one irate tweet on Wednesday.

    "I have sent a DM [direct message] regarding my ticket details. Please respond!", said Sachin Deshpande on twitter..

    Another, Ankit Maloo, wrote: "Received an email for all together cancellation of flight days before departure without any prior intimation or communication over phone!"

    India's aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), on Tuesday warned Jet Airways to ensure that pilots under stress are not forced to operate flights.

    The 25-year-old airline is in talks with its lenders - state-run banks led by State Bank of India (SBI) - and its biggest shareholder, Abu Dhabi-based carrier Etihad, to secure a rescue deal. But talks have dragged on and it is struggling to finalise a plan.

    While on the surface Jet's future still hangs in the balance, there has been behind-the-scenes support from the government indicating that a bailout is likely, Reuters reported earlier on Tuesday.

    The Indian government has asked state-run banks to rescue the privately held airline without pushing it into bankruptcy, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to avert thousands of job losses weeks before a general election, sources have said.

    The DGCA said with the current fleet Jet is likely to operate only about 985 flights a week or 140 flights a day - down from an average of about 650 flights a day in March 2018.

    Prabhu, in a separate statement on Tuesday, asked officials to continuously monitor the situation at Jet and ensure that public interest and safety are given top priority.

    SOURCE: News agencies