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Air India grounds flights amid jet fuel woes
NEW DELHI, May 27 (AFP/IANS):
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Published on 27 May. 2011 11:29 PM IST
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Cash-strapped Air India was forced to cancel some flights Friday after oil companies refused to give the state-run carrier fuel because of a failure to pay bills.
The flagship carrier cancelled at least four flights in southern India after state-owned oil firms said they would not give the carrier jet fuel because of unpaid debts, a spokesman said.
The spokesman, who declined to be named, played down the cancellations, saying it was “not a major problem” and flights had returned to normal.
“This problem is being resolved,” the spokesman told AFP. “We expect to pay for our fuel and also to obtain some assistance from the aviation ministry.”
Air India’s fuel woes have further dented the image of the so-called “Maharajah” of the skies, which once monopolised Indian airspace but now has been overtaken by private carriers.
The airline, which has been engulfed by financial and labour troubles, was put on a cash-and-carry payment basis late last year by the state oil firms in purchasing jet fuel.
Oil companies last week sent a notice warning Air India that it would stop supplying fuel to the airline at some airports unless it covered unpaid debts, local media reported.
Earlier this month, Air India’s flight operations were grounded by a 10-day pilots’ strike in quest of higher pay that cost the ailing airline millions of dollars in lost revenues.
Air India posted losses of 34.5 billion rupees ($771 million) in the first half of the last fiscal year on top of a loss of 55.5 billion rupees ($1.23 billion) during the previous 12 months, according to government figures.
Air India confirmed that it will be paying the required amount to buy jet fuel from the oil firms.
“We will be paying them for our immediate needs,” Air India official said.
However, aviation experts doubt the viability of the airline to operate on such payment schemes as it is already under tremendous financial burden. The flag carrier has a daily requirement of Rs.16 crore worth of Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) of jet propellant-1 (JP-1) type.
Four Air India flights on domestic and international routes were cancelled early Friday morning as oil firms refused to provide jet fuel and demanded that the carrier pay cash for the ATF.
The four cancelled flights were two from Kochi and one each from Thiruvanathapuram (to Chennai) and Kozhikode (Air India Express flight to Muscat).
“Two flights from Kochi - Air India Express flight to Sharjah and a domestic flight to Bangalore - have also been cancelled. But we are able to operate the Riyadh flight from Thiruvananthapuram via Kochi that is carrying 400 passengers,” said the Air India official.

 
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