April 12, 2019 / 3:15 PM / 10 days ago

Indian prime minister's office to hold talks on Jet Airways: TV

MUMBAI (Reuters) - The Indian prime minister’s office has called for an urgent meeting to discuss a crisis at debt-laden airline Jet Airways on Friday, television news channels reported.

FILE PHOTO: A Jet Airways plane is parked as another moves to the runway at Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport in Mumbai, India, February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo

The carrier, saddled with more than $1.2 billion of debt, has had to ground more than 80 percent of its fleet over unpaid dues to leasing companies, pushing it to the brink of shutdown and jeopardizing hopes of attracting a new investor.

A Jet Airways spokesman said the airline had suspended all west-bound international flights until Monday.

Government officials have previously expressed concern about the loss of jobs at the airline and on the prospect of higher Indian air fares if Jet Airways collapses.

Jet’s lenders, led by State Bank of India, are still trying to seek expressions of interest in the carrier from potential investors.

The banks have received initial bids from five to six companies, television channels reported, citing sources.

Nripendra Mishra, the principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will chair the meeting at 6pm India time (1230 GMT), the TV channels said, adding that the aviation regulator and civil aviation secretary were also expected to attend.

Television news channel ET Now reported late on Friday that India’s aviation secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola said the company had money to operate only 6-7 aircraft over the weekend and after that the lenders would have to decide how many aircraft the airline could operate beyond Monday afternoon.

Kharola said the company will meet bankers on Monday for infusion of funds in the interim, the TV channel said.

Earlier on Friday, hundreds of Jet’s employees marched from the airport to the airline’s headquarters in Mumbai to seek clarity on whether they will get paid soon and if their jobs will be secure over the coming months.

The All India Jet Airway’s Officers & Staff Association, which represents ground handlers, ground crew, loaders and guest service executives working at Mumbai airport, has filed a police complaint against the airline’s former chairman Naresh Goyal, CEO Vinay Dube and representatives of its lead lender SBI.

“The company has not paid salaries to its employees (to date) which is in gross violation of the law of the land,” Kiran Pawaskar, president of the association said in the complaint.

Additional reporting by Aditi Shah and Aftab Ahmed; Editing by Martin Howell and Jane Merriman

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