The cash-strapped Kingfisher Airlines cancelled 12 flights out of Mumbai on Wednesday as the agitation by a large section of its pilots over non-payment of salaries entered its third day.
The situation got worse as several engineers also joined the protest. However, the airline spokesperson denied the development.
Airport officials at Mumbai and Delhi said some flights were delayed as the airline had no staff to put or remove chocks, wooden or metal blocks placed on aircraft wheels, as some engineers did not report to work. “Managers had to remove the chocks,” said a Mumbai airport official.
Apart from that, the 30 agitating pilots are likely to sign a contract with another private airline on Thursday, although the Kingfisher chairman Vijay Mallya has called them for a meeting in Delhi.
“We have learnt that the airline management called the meeting to buy some more time, but we cannot afford to wait anymore,” said a senior commander with the airline requesting anonymity.
The pilots have been refusing flight duty since Monday since the airline has not paid them three-month salaries.
A private airline has poached close to 100 Kingfisher pilots in the past few months since its fleet predominantly consists of Airbus 320 aircraft, similar to the one used by Kingfisher. Till Wednesday evening, at least 30 of the 43 commanders operating out of Mumbai had received offer letters from the airline.
“We will be attending the meeting [with Mallya] but the main purpose for the visit to Delhi is to join this Gurgaon-based carrier,” said a pilot requesting anonymity.
The pilot said their prospective employer was keen to start ground training from March 21.
Sources said Kingfisher was forced to discontinue its Mumbai-London flight because a UK-based lessor confiscated the Airbus 330-200 aircraft used for daily operation. Sources said another aircraft taken on lease was confiscated in Chennai owing to non-payment of dues.
Kingfisher Airlines confirmed the aircraft was returned to its lessor in a statement issued on Wednesday. It further said that the airline operated only 101 flights on Wednesday, as compared to 145 on the first day of protest.