Kingfisher Airlines’ Bollywood drama

Mr Vijay Mallya and crew, Picture courtesy forbes.com

The Kingfisher Airlines saga runs like an unending Bollywood drama. Since its inception in 2005, the airline has not posted a profit. Mired in debt and faced with deepening industrial problems that have since October 1 resulted in the grounding of its entire fleet, the airline’s owner Vijay Mallya, otherwise known as India’s liquor baron, is hopeful of its revival.

A high point of the drama was when a court in the southern Indian city of Hyderabab issued a warrant for arrest of Mr Mallya for bounced cheques amounting to US$1.9 million made out to the Hyderabab International Airport. The defaulting airline has since arrived at a settlement with the airport and the arrest warrant was withdrawn.

But Kingfisher is all but ready to fly again. It has extended its lockout to November 5, hoping by then the dispute with staff over non-payment of salaries pending since March would have ended. Its chief executive officer Sanjay Agarwal said: “The talks were positive and the meeting went in the right direction. But we will extend the date for restarting the flights.”

However, that may now depend on the Indian government’s decision as to whether to suspend Kingfisher’s licence, having earlier asked the airline to show cause why not. Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh did not rule out the possibility of suspension or cancellation before renewal; Kingfisher’s current licence expires at the end of the year.

Meantime Mr Mallya is hopeful of foreign investors coming to the airline’s rescue. There are rumours that British spirits company Diageo Plc may take a 20% stake in Mr Mallya’s flagship company United Spirits Ltd, but it is not clear if the funds would be channelled to resuscitate the ailing Kingfisher.

It would have been a different story if it were another airline, another country. But here, in the world’s largest democracy, the end is not quite in sight here. The reel continues to run.

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About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

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