Vijay Mallya-promoted Kingfisher Airlines is flying into turbulence. More than 150 of its pilots have left in the past year-and-a-half, citing various reasons. Even though others have joined, the current shortage is estimated at 35 pilots, forcing the airline to ground some of its aircraft, cancel leaves of flight commanders, and put senior executives from the operations department on flying duty.
In the same period, Kingfisher’s rival, Jet Airways, lost 35 pilots.
In response to an e-mail query, a Kingfisher spokesman wrote: "We are not in the business of answering speculative questions. The assumptions and consequent questions do not merit reply. All our flights are operating on schedule."
Kingfisher, part of the UB Group — the world’s second largest spirits maker by volume, has 618 pilots. Kingfisher’s Airbus A320 fleet, which constitutes about a third of its 66-plane fleet, has been the worst hit by the pilot shortage.
“The airline is facing a shortage of at least 35 pilots in the Airbus A320 fleet,” a Kingfisher executive said on the condition of anonymity. Another said the airline had told the pilots they should go on leave only if absolutely necessary. It has put at least 12 senior executives from the operations department on the flying roster to bridge the gap in the cockpit.
In other airlines, senior executives from the operations department are required to fly only once a month to retain their flying licence.
Another Kingfisher executive said the airline had been forced to ground some of its aircraft owing to the pilot shortage. “About 12 of our aircraft are grounded at the moment. Some due to spare parts shortage, but a few because they do not have pilots to operate them,” the executive said.
Kingfisher was under a debt of Rs 7,413 crore as of December 2009. The merchant banking arm of State Bank of India (SBI) is preparing a debt-recast plan for the airline. SBI had earlier rejected a proposal to recast Kingfisher’s Rs 2,099-crore short-term debt.
Kingfisher, which operates more than 375 flights a day to 71 destinations in India and abroad, had reported net loss of Rs 1,647.2 crore in the financial year ended March 2009. It reported a net loss of Rs 187 crore in the first quarter of the current financial year.
The airline has hired Seabury Aviation & Aerospace, a US-based company, to advise on sustaining its long-term profitability by strengthening the operational and financial performance.