Kingfisher Airline has suspended all its seven flights from Calcutta for nine days from Sunday, fuelling speculation that the cash-strapped carrier will bid bye to the city skies. The Vijay Mallya-promoted airline grounded its daily Calcutta-Delhi flight this week and officials said operations on the other routes from the city, too, would remain grounded from February 19 to 28, 2012.
The airline’s website shows bookings for all its flights from Calcutta have been suspended during the period. “A couple of our aircraft have to be grounded because of technical reasons, prompting us to suspend operations. It’s a temporary measure and flights will resume soon,” a senior Kingfisher official said.
“We are trying to rebook passengers on the flights of other airlines. Those who can’t be accommodated will get a full refund.” Airline sources said a number of Kingfisher flights from Calcutta were cancelled on Friday following agitation by engineers and staff of the agency hired for ground-handling, according to a report in the Telegraph India. “Our salaries have been irregular since December and today we heard from the sales office that operations will be closed from Sunday. We fear this signals withdrawal of operations from Calcutta,” said a Kingfisher employee.
The agitating staff had threatened to go on a cease-work in the morning. The Calcutta-Bagdogra flight, scheduled to take off at 10.30am, got stranded because of the agitation. “This led to a protest by the passengers and the flight took off later in the day,” said an airport official.
There was another round of trouble and confusion in the evening when the Mumbai-bound flight of Kingfisher was about to take off. “The airline had initially announced that the flight, scheduled to leave at 8.30pm, had been cancelled. When the passengers went to the airline’s office on the first floor of the domestic terminal, where a meeting was on between officials and the staff, a passenger was roughed up by some employees. Later in the evening, the airline suddenly announced that the flight would depart,” said Rahul Dwivedi, a businessman from Mumbai who had booked a ticket on the flight.
The airline denied the assault on a passenger. Airport sources said Kingfisher had started operating from Calcutta in 2005 with 10 flights. The count rose to 25 in 2010 but started dropping from December 2011. “Till yesterday there were seven daily flights, five in the domestic and two in the international sectors,” said an official.
Aviation sources said Kingfisher flights from Calcutta had been irregular for the past few months, with the airline cancelling a few flights almost daily. Records with the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) suggest that Kingfisher had in the past few months cancelled more than 250 flights. “The latest development has added to the confusion. The airline is not officially communicating with tour operators or passengers,” said Anil Punjabi, Chairman (East), Travel Agents Federation of India.
The airline had incurred a loss of Rs 444 crore in the quarter ending December 2011. In the corresponding period a year before, the loss had been Rs 254 crore. The figures have fanned fears about the future of the airline, which is finding it increasingly difficult to raise funds. The State Bank of India, Kingfisher’s top lender, has said it is unwilling to provide more loans to the company. “The company has incurred substantial losses and its net worth has eroded,” Kingfisher said in a statement recently.