PMO Holds Meeting to Discuss Jet Crisis Even as Employees Seek to File FIR Against Naresh Goyal
Passengers were left stranded at airports as Jet Airways announced that it would cancel operations till April 15.
News18 Creative by Mir Suhail
New Delhi: The crisis in Jet Airways deepened on Friday as the airline could operate only 11 aircraft, leaving passengers stranded at various domestic and international airports and prompting the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to hold an urgent meeting to discuss the situation.
According to sources, the meeting was called after Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu asked secretary of the department Pradeep Singh Kharola to review issues concerning the carrier.
Kharola later held a meeting, through video conference, with the management of Jet Airways.
Passengers were left stranded at airports as Jet Airways announced on Friday that it was suspending international operations till April 15. Moreover, its employees carried out a protest march in Mumbai, asking the airline to pay their pending salaries.
The employee union also sought to register FIRs against airlines' founder Naresh Goyal, chief executive Vinay Dube and SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar for non-payment of March salary, even as passengers continued to bear the brunt of last minute cancellations and missing refunds.
More than 200 employees, under union president and NCP lawmaker Kiran Pawaskar, marched from the Mumbai airport to Jet headquarters Siroya Centre in Andheri and met senior management although they wanted to meet Dube. They later went to the police, seeking to register an FIR against the airline's authorities.
"We have to inform you that Jet has not paid our March salaries of date. We call upon you to register offences for cheating, criminal breach of trust, misappropriation of funds and other offences under relevant sections of the law," Pawaskar, who heads the All-India Jet Airways Officers & Staff Association, said in a complaint to senior inspector of the suburban Sahar police station.
Before meeting the management, Pawaskar addressed the employees and blamed the government policies for the downfall of the airline. He also claimed that whatever the little money the airline is earning now is being used to make refunds to the passengers.
Kharola told reporters that Jet Airways flew 11 aircraft on Friday and will operate six to seven aircraft on both days this weekend on domestic routes.
When asked if the airline had enough funds to keep the operations going till Monday, the secretary replied in the affirmative. He said that Jet Airways held a meeting with bankers on Friday "wherein they put forth their demand" regarding interim funding.
A consortium of lenders, leading with State Bank of India (SBI), is currently handling the airline.
Kharola said the bankers have asked the carrier to “rework its proposal” regarding interim funding. "Monday again, they (Jet Airways) will approach the bank. Depending on what the banks decide, the future course of action would be taken," he said. “Till Monday afternoon, (six to) seven planes would be flying. After that how many would fly would depend on their interaction with bankers."
The secretary clarified that while one aircraft flying over the weekend would be Boeing 737 and all others would be ATR. With less than 100 seats, an ATR is a much smaller aircraft.
Incidentally, the stake sale bid invited by the SBI-led consortium of bankers also closed on Friday after being extended by two days.
Goyal, the UAE carrier Etihad Airways, Air Canada and the country's national investment fund among others are reported to have submitted bids, according to media reports.
Naresh Goyal owns 50.1% in the airline, most of which is pledged with the consortium of lenders. Last month, Goyal had agreed to pare down his stake to 25.5% for an emergency fund of Rs 1,500 crore from the lenders and leave the board, but the process is yet to be completed due to procedural delays.
SBI Caps has the mandate for Jet Airways' sale on behalf of the SBI-led consortium of the domestic lenders to the debt-ridden private carrier. The bidding norms allow Goyal to participate in the sale process.
Airfares have been on an upswing across India for the last few weeks due to a sharp decline in the number of flights primarily caused by grounding of 90% of the 119-aircraft fleet of Jet Airways. Prices jumped by almost 15% on an average between January and March this year as the country's second largest airline by passengers has tottered.
The airline on Thursday had suspended its operations to the eastern and northeastern cities of India "till further notice".
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