Travel plans of thousands of people could get upset with aviation regulator DGCA cracking the whip on media baron Kalanithi Maran-controlled SpiceJet on Friday cancelling the 186 “slots” and barring the carrier from offering bookings for more than a month’s advance.
This means, for instance, if a person wants to book a ticket on Saturday (December 6, 2014), SpiceJet can offer a seat only for travel by January 5, 2014. Besides, the cancellation of slots also means that the airline will be able to offer far fewer seats even for future travel.
In aviation parlance a slot broadly represents a time schedule that is given to each airline at airports according to a plan that the carrier submits to the regulator.
For instance, SpiceJet would have probably been flying five daily flights from Delhi to Mumbai. In the recent past, however, the airline may have cancelled a many of these flights.
The problem arose when airline began informing passengers only a day or two before the travel date about the cancellations. While some passengers were being accommodated in flights of later days, some flights were outright cancelled, leaving people to buy sky-high spot fares.
Also, flyers say their flight timings were changed repeatedly, leaving them in a spot.
The DGCA said since the airline had not been utilising 186 of these scheduled slots (93 takeoffs and departures each), these should stand cancelled.
Further, the regulator directed the airline refund the booking amount to the customers of cancelled flights within 30 days.
The airline recently reported a Rs.310 crore loss in the quarter ended September from Rs.560 crore loss in the corresponding period of last fiscal.
Spicejet has been losing money for the last five consecutive quarters and had itself decided to pare its operations--cutting its daily flights to 232 flights in October, instead of 339 in September.
The airline’s is now operating a fleet of 22 Boeing 737s, down from down from 37 B737s earlier.
“ As a natural consequence of the fleet reduction of 15 Boeings, unused slots are given back to the airports. This is routine process and a natural outcome of our revised fleet plan, and there is nothing unusual about the slots being cancelled, “ it said.
With over 125 pilots quitting the airline in the recent past with the carrier unable to pay its lessors, the aviation regulator asked SpiceJet to ensure that the Flight Duty Time Limitation (FDTL), a rule which governs maximum duty time for the cockpit crew, was not violated even if the airline was facing a pilots' crunch.
DGCA chief Prabhat Kumar asked the airline to file a "convincing schedule" by December 15 to clear its over Rs 1,500 crore dues to various vendors including airports and oil companies.
The regulator further asked the airline to disburse salaries to its employees in future by the 7th of every month.
The regulator would now also carry out "heightened" surveillance of all SpiceJet flights on landing to ensure that safety is not compromised due to its financial troubles.