As many as 305 passengers were forced to spend 13 hours inside an aircraft at the Kolkata airport on Monday night. The hostage-like situation arose when the Phuket-Tehran flight of Mahan Air was grounded by the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) over non-payment of dues.
The fate of another 176 passengers, booked on another flight of the same airline, was also sealed for the same reason. They were, however, lucky to find place in the transit lounge.
An airport official said the first flight reached at 11 pm. When IOC officials refused to refuel the Airbus 320 and it became apparent that the matter would not be resolved soon, officials escorted the passengers to the transit lounge. As the passengers were settling down, another Mahan flight, a Boeing 747 with 305 passengers on board, landed at 2 pm.
“The transit lounge could accommodate only 280 passengers, of which 176 seats were occupied. We could escort the passengers of the second flight to the security hold only in the morning,” said an airport official.
However, sources claimed all 305 passengers were forced to stay inside the aircraft for full 13 hours. They were served one small meal during their stay at the airport by the Airports Authority of India.
Airport director BP Sharma refused to comment saying the problem was between IOC and the airline.
Under the no-credit policy adopted in 2006, IOC takes a security deposit – amounting to about a month’s fuel consumption – from the airline. The airline is then allowed to refuel for a month on credit. IOC can issue a refuelling embargo if dues are not cleared after a month.
“They had pending dues of about R28 crore. We had served them a reminder after the one-month period lapsed, before imposing the embargo. The flight was allowed to take off only after the dues were cleared,” an IOC official said.
Mahan Air officials were not available for comments.