NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s ailing Jet Airways drastically cut back its operations on Monday amid talks with investors on purchasing a controlling stake in the debt-laden airline.
Once India’s largest carrier, Jet Airways is currently operating only seven of its 14 aircraft, and is flying only domestic routes, according to spokesman Gaurav Sahni.
A recovery plan led by government-owned State Bank of India and other creditors has so far been unable to staunch the bleeding at the airline, which had 119 aircraft on Dec. 31, when the company first defaulted on some of its $1.5 billion in debt.
Also on Monday, Jet Airways pilots demonstrated in Mumbai after deciding against a strike, saying they had not been paid in four months and asking India’s government for a lifeline.
“The appeal is to the prime minister to save Jet Airways, to save 20,000-plus jobs which are at stake here, to pay our salaries,” said Jet Airways captain Asim Valiani.
Company Chairman Naresh Goyal, who founded the airline in 1992, resigned from the board last month but submitted an expression of interest on Friday to make a bid, Indian news media reported.
Goyal built the airline into India’s largest carrier by offering an alternative to the unreliable schedules of the country’s state-owned airlines.
But it has been struggling for more than a decade since it borrowed heavily to compete against a new crop of budget airlines.
Jet Airways was pinched further last year when the government imposed a 5% import tax on jet fuel even as petroleum prices worldwide rose.
Around the same time, the company announced it was low on working capital. Employee pay became irregular. Pilots and engineers began to jump ship, taking jobs at rival Indian airlines. Aircraft lessors began taking back leased planes in lieu of payment.
Mark D. Martin, chief executive of aviation consultancy Martin Consulting, said by Monday evening, Jet Airways creditors should have a list of bids for a controlling stake in the airline. But Martin wasn’t optimistic.