DGCA asks Kingfisher to sort out mess

Regulator gives airline 24 hours to restructure flight schedule

The crisis-ridden Kingfisher Airlines was on Tuesday virtually put on notice on safety issues by the nation’s aviation regulator and given a 24-hour deadline to submit its ‘realistic’ revised schedule even as the carrier was said to have made partial payment of its income tax dues.

However,  Bharat Bhushan, chief of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) who the ailing airline’s management met, made it clear later that there would be no punitive action against the Vijay Mallya-led carrier for its acts of omission. The airline cancelled flights without informing the regulator.

“To be on the safer side, we have decided to go for safety surveillance of all of their operating aircraft,”  Bhushan said, adding that an explanation has been sought from the airline on why the airline was operating a truncated service.

Kingfisher sources said the airline on Tuesday paid Rs 21 crore to I-T department towards its tax dues and was expecting that its frozen bank accounts would be de-attached. The airline on Monday had blamed the Income Tax authorities for its financial situation as freezing of its accounts led to crippling of services. The airline’s I-T dues run to over Rs 100 crore.

On Tuesday,  the airline operated only 28 of its 64 aircraft putting the passengers to hardship for the fourth successive day.

The regulator is understood to have expressed its annoyance over the airline cancelling services without notice either to the DGCA or to the passengers. On measures to be taken to reviving the airline, the management is said to have told the DGCA that it may resort to returning some aircraft to lessors as their leases have been terminated so that its losses would come down.

The regulator was also not happy that the airline has not paid the service tax, the tax deducted at source, navigation charges to Airports Authority of India, oil companies which have now put it on notice etc.

Airline CEO Sanjay Aggarwal, declining to go into the details of the deliberations of the meeting, told reporters after the discussions that the cancelled schedules would be restored in 4-5 days. Asked what action would be taken against the airline, Bhushan said: “We don't want customers to be affected. I have asked them to come up with a revised schedule not later than by tomorrow (Wednesday).”  He added: “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.”

“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 said.

“We have to hear Kingfisher. Whenever big companies close down, it does affect people but you are certainly not going to advocate that banks should bail out all the ailing companies.”

The news sent Kingfisher scrip plummeting almost 20 percent to a low of Rs 21.40, but it managed to erase all losses and closed 0.75 percent up at Rs 26.80.

It is likely that the cash-starved airline would resume its operations from Kolkata from Wednesday – the station was closed down as its staff went on a strike protesting against non-payment of salary for the last three months.

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