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Strike by private airlines grounded before take-off

india Updated: Aug 03, 2009 02:52 IST
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The August 18 strike by private airlines is off. And it seems the smaller low-cost airlines took the lead. SpiceJet pulled out on Sunday, the day after arch-rival IndiGo broke rank, leaving their federation with no options.

The Federation of Indian Airlines issued a statement late Sunday evening saying it has decided not to suspend flights in view of “agitated public sentiment and potential inconvenience to thousands of passengers”.

<b1>This statement came shortly after SpiceJet’s announcement that it would be flying as normal on August 18. The federation was till then officially maintaining there was no change in its earlier stand.

The federation, the apex body of airlines, announced on July 31 its members Jet Airways, Kingfisher, SpiceJet, IndiGo and Go Air would not be operating their flights on August 18 in support of their demands.

The federation had said it was not looking for “charity or a bailout” but just wanted to be treated fairly. They are demanding a cut in tax on jet fuel and airport fees, to international standards.

Civil aviation minister Praful Patel on Saturday ruled out any financial package for the airlines saying their losses were on account of poor passenger load, economic slowdown and high cost of jet fuel. There was no change in the government’s stand, till late Sunday evening.

And that made the airlines look terrible. “It was stupid to call a strike,” said Captain CY Gopinath, who once owned no-frills Deccan Airways. “If they had decided, they should have stuck to it.”

He said it’s the smaller low-cost airlines that made the federation change its decision. “Once again the LCCs (low-cost carriers) realised they were falling into a trap and jumped the ship forcing big boys to follow,” he said.

Officials at some low-cost carriers confirmed that but refused to come on record. But they argued their financial condition was not as bad as the big airlines.

Most said they were confident of a better balance sheet by the end of next quarter. A case in point was SpiceJet, which has reported net profit of Rs 26 crore in the April-June quarter.

IndiGo revolted on Saturday. By Sunday evening arch-rival SpiceJet decided to operate flight irrespective of the outcome of any discussion with the government and federation.

What made the FIA buckle was Air India’s decision to operate more flights that day. Besides, the federation didn’t look too convinced of its own threat — all its airlines continued to book tickets for August 18.

Kingfisher and Jet Airways, the two big airlines, were said to be largely responsible for the federation’s militant stand, given the extent of their financial woes. They are both bleeding, financially.

Neither could be contacted for comments.