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Kingfisher cancels 40 flights; hundreds stranded

Last updated on: February 21, 2012 18:03 IST

Kingfisher cancels 40 flights; hundreds stranded

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Struggling to stay afloat after cancelling large number of flights, Kingfisher Airlines was on Tuesday rapped by DGCA for not adhering to its flight schedules but the aviation regulator made it clear there were no plans to take any punitive action against it for the moment.

"Let us not talk of punitive action at the moment. We are more interested to see the airline back on its feet.

"Our priority is not to punish. . . because of the immediate difficulties the travelling public will have to face," Directorate General of Civil Aviation chief E K Bharat Bhushan told reporters after an almost two-hour meeting with Kingfisher CEO Sanjay Aggarwal and executive vice president Hitesh Patel in New Delhi.

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Bhushan was asked whether DGCA would consider action against Kingfisher for flouting Aircraft Rules by not taking its prior approval for drastic curtailment of its flights.

As over 40 flights were cancelled across the country on Tuesday, the airline informed DGCA that it had 28 functional aircraft, out of 64 planes in November last.

The airline's top brass were summoned to explain the large-scale disruptions in the operations and the reasons.

"We have had a good meeting. Some more information has been sought by DGCA which will be provided in the next 24 hours," Aggarwal said after the meeting.

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DGCA asked the two top officials to provide a "realistic" flight schedule the airline can operate with 28 planes.

Sources said the airline's explanation that flights were affected due to freezing of its bank accounts by the Income Tax authorities cannot be accepted.

Bhushan said he would submit a report on the discussions to the civil aviation ministry this evening.

"I will also submit a separate report on the closure of their Kolkata operations as Kolkata is the gateway to the Northeast.

"The government has issued directions that flights to that region should not be affected," Bhushan said.

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Kingfisher, which stopped all operations from Kolkata since Friday night, informed DGCA that they would resume flights from there in the 'next two-three days'.

Earlier, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said, "We have to hear out Kingfisher. We don't know what their plans are, how they are going to restore normal schedule. Then there are safety issues which they have to answer."

To questions on whether punitive action could be considered against the airline, he said that in any industry closure of one unit creates trouble for the entire industry and added that steps need to be taken to see that Kingfisher restores its flights and passengers are not inconvenienced.

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Expressing concern over delayed payment of salaries, the DGCA chief said the airline has said they would disburse the December salaries to its staff by this month-end.

The sources said Kingfisher's claims that its financial problems would be resolved once the IT authorities defreeze its bank accounts, which were frozen last week, were "unacceptable".

To a spate of questions on whether any action would be taken against the airline, Bhushan said, "Whatever needs to be done will be in consultation with the civil aviation ministry."

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Bhushan said the sudden cancellations by Kingfisher had caused severe inconvenience to the passengers.

"We have the responsibility to ensure that difficulty of passengers is minimised and safety of operations maintained."

"We have received complains that the airline was not informing passengers about the cancellations, but the airline says it is difficult to locate the passengers as some of them have booked through travel agents," he said.

The airline had sought permission to operate around 400 flights with 64 aircraft during the current Winter Schedule from November to March.

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"In November, when they suddenly truncated some of their flights, we had asked them to give their revised schedule.

Today, we took stock of the situation and have found that only 28 out of 64 aircraft are operating," the DGCA chief said.

With 28 planes, the DGCA estimates the airline would be able to operate 175 flights each week.

The carrier cancelled more flights on Tuesday. While 13 flights were cancelled from Mumbai, 8 each were cancelled from Kolkata and Bangalore and four from Delhi, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded.

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The Mumbai-Delhi trunk route was the worst-hit with maximum cancellations and clubbing of flights.

Bhushan said the aviation regulator would ensure that all the 28 planes, which are operational, were airworthy.

"To be on safer side, we have decided to go for safety surveillance of all of their operating aircraft."

The airline has faced fresh problems with 34 pilots quitting earlier this month and a large number of contractual staff being put on notice.

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Regarding stoppage of services to various international stations like Singapore, Bangkok, Kathmandu and Dhaka, Bhushan said the airline assured the regulator that these flights would be resumed gradually over the next week.

On his part, the Kingfisher CEO said he hoped the flight schedules would be restored "in the next five to seven days.

. . .Our revised schedule is (uploaded) in our system. We are informing passengers about cancellations and clubbing of flights."

Agarwal maintained that the airline had "sufficient number of pilots to operate flights. There is no shortage and no flight has been cancelled due to pilot shortage."





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