New Delhi: The confrontation between private airlines and the civil aviation ministry is getting bigger.
A day after a conglomerate of loss-making private airlines from Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) - including Kingfisher, Jet Airways, Spicejet and Indigo Airlines - threatened to go on strike, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel on Saturday talked tough and denied the possibility of a bailout.
On Friday, in an unprecedented move, the airlines said they will ground all flights and services on the August 18 to protest Government’s inaction and inadequate relief provided to bail them out of recessionary impact.
But Patel said he will have none of these threats. Calling the move an open blackmail, Patel has threatened action against the errant airlines should the strike come into effect.
Patel said, “The call for strike is a self imposed decision by private airlines. If they continue with their decision to go on strike, DGCA will take stringent action. If private airlines are running losses, you cannot expect the govt to give a bailout. We will not call private airlines for dialogue. We sympathise with their problem, but this is not the way to settle the issue”.
Should the airlines go ahead with the strike, the Govenment says it could come down heavily on them and invoke the Essential Service Maintenance act - which says if the Central Government is satisfied that in the public interest it is necessary or expedient so to do, it may, by general or special order, prohibit strikes in any essential service.
However, the airlines too are in no mood to relent. Speaking with CNN-IBN Saroj Dutta of Jet Airways said the Government shouldn't take airlines' threats as blackmail. "We are looking for help from Government in form of rationalisation of charges and taxes and not bailout . We are looking forward for a meaningful relief," he said.
Secretary-General of the Federation of Indian Airlines, Anil Baijal, said FIA’s member airlines would not be able to sustain operations any further if the Government doesn’t help them.
Kingfisher Chief Vijay Mallya said at the press conference in Mumbai that private airlines might have to suspend their domestic flights indefinitely if their losses continued to increase.
“We are bleeding. Everybody is bleeding. Giving a helping hand to the airline industry is done all over the world,” added Jet Airways Chief Naresh Goyal, who was also present at the press conference.
The FIA wants cheaper aviation fuel and reduction in airport charges, which they say has increased ever since the entry of private players.
However, the worst hit in the bargain will be the passengers, many of whom may have to face harrowing times on August 18.
Though the private airlines have made clear they will refund the money for tickets for booked for August 18, it's unlikely the passengers - specially those flying the low-cost carriers - would get an alternative to fly.
(With inputs from Karma Paljor)