Kingfisher Airlines’ pilots based in Mumbai refused to turn up for work over the weekend after the carrier again failed to pay salaries dating back to March.
The strike has already caused the cancellation of 19 flights, and further disruption is expected, according to a spokesman for Mumbai International Airport.
“Eight departures from Mumbai and an equal number of flights from other places to the city have been cancelled due to non-availability of pilots in the wake of the strike by a section of its pilots,” the spokesman said.
The strike comes as the Indian government’s civil aviation ministry revealed that Kingfisher’s market share in the Indian airline industry had dropped from being in the top three, to last.
This is the second strike by Kingfisher pilots over non-payment of salaries in a month, and went ahead despite a meeting in Mumbai on Friday between 15 of the airlines’ pilots and Kingfisher’s chief executive Sanjay Aggarwal.
One pilot told The Times of India the airline had assured them the money would be paid by Friday.
“We have lost faith in the airline management as they do not mean what they say. Very few people, mainly ground staff, have got the March salaries,” he said. “It is surprising how the government has closed its eyes completely to the situation in Kingfisher. In any other airline, the management would have been taken to task for not paying taxes and dues to anyone.”
The debt-ridden airline reported a loss of Rs 65.1 million (Dh4.29m) in the second quarter of 2012. As of March 31, 2012, Kingfisher’s total losses since 2009 stand at Rs 890m, on top of loans of Rs 802.2m, and an additional debt of Rs 314.2m, according to Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.
CAPA estimates the airline requires $600 million to keep afloat. Kingfisher chairman, Vijay Mallya has been promising since last November that the airline is close to recapitalisation, but has so far failed to deliver.
“Billionaire Vijay Mallya seems to be silently watching his beloved Kingfisher Airlines erode into dust,” said the international business journal, Forbes, at the weekend. “Once a top three airline in India with double digit market share of more than 15 per cent, striking pilots, layoffs and grounded flights has Kingfisher … last among the major carriers with just a 7 per cent share of the Indian domestic fight market.”
The Civil Aviation Ministry survey showed IndiGo, a large no-frills flier, has top market share now, with a 27 per cent. Jet Airways and its subsidiary JetLite had slipped from number one to number two at 26.6 per cent market share. Government-run Air India actually saw an increase in July to 18.2 per cent from around 16 per cent, according to authorities.
Kingfisher Airlines was plunged into a financial crisis early this year, after the spiraling cost of paying for a too-rapid expansion and rising fuel prices left it unable to pay salaries.
It was forced to ground over two thirds of its fleet of 64 aircraft, and remove a swathe of international and domestic routes from its timetable. Last week it was forced to withdraw its application to join the One World Alliance of airlines because existing members failed to agree on its admission.