India’s stricken Jet Airways cancels international flights, grounds more planes

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India’s Jet Airways canceled several international flights on Thursday and grounded another 10 aircraft after failing to pay lessors, deepening the woes of the beleaguered carrier.

“We have cancelled all long-haul west-bound international flights from India from tonight until tomorrow (Friday) morning,” a Jet Airways spokesperson told AFP late on Thursday.

The cancellations affected five flights to London, Paris, and Amsterdam. Thursday and Friday services to Colombo and Singapore were also canceled but a flight to Kathmandu did run.

The west-bound flights were scheduled to start again from Friday afternoon but services to Asian countries were expected to remain suspended on Friday, the spokesman added.

The development comes as a consortium of lenders led by the State Bank of India tries to sell a majority stake in the debt-laden airline to keep it flying.

Jet Airways was until recently India’s second-biggest airline but is on the brink of collapse with debts of more than $1 billion.

The carrier has been forced to ground the majority of its fleet as it struggles to pay aircraft lessors and staff.

On Thursday, it told the Bombay Stock Exchange that it had grounded 10 more planes due to non-payment. The airline now operates just 16 planes out of a fleet of 119.

Its operational fleet is now thought to be below the number required by Indian aviation regulators to fly overseas.

Thousands of customers have been stranded in recent weeks after hundreds of flights were cancelled, in some cases with little or no notice.

The Mumbai-based airline has also defaulted on several loan payments.

Last month, creditors injected $218 million of “immediate funding support” into Jet Airways as part of a debt resolution plan.

The move saw the State Bank of India-led consortium take control of the struggling airline from founder Naresh Goyal, who stepped down as chairman.

The consortium started a stake sale process on Monday, giving prospective bidders until Friday to submit expressions of interest. Any interested parties will then have until April 30 to make a formal bid.

A collapse would deal a blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pragmatic pro-business reputation during a mega six-week-long election that started on Thursday.

Alarm bells for Jet Airways first rang in August when it failed to report its quarterly earnings or pay staff, including pilots. It later reported a loss of $85 million.

In February, it secured a $1.19 billion bailout from lenders to bridge a funding gap, but its crisis has deepened.

The carrier has been badly hit by fluctuating global crude prices and a weak rupee, as well as fierce competition from budget rivals.

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