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Vijay Mallya blames fuel taxes, high interest for Kingfisher crisis

Mumbai/New Delhi : Caught between the ambition to be India’s biggest airline on one side and mismanagement on the other, Kingfisher Airline’s chairman Vijay Mallya’s attempt to keep his company afloat after a Rs 468 crore loss in the previous quarter failed to impress passengers.

“We have been getting calls daily from people booked on Kingfisher flights to change to other carriers. It’s the same trend for new bookings,” said Rajji Rai, president, Travel Agents Association of India.

Frequent flyer Amardeep Bajpai, CEO, Webisdom, said delays, lack of hygiene and “bad food finally made me shift”.

Mallya blamed every one – state governments taxing fuel, and rising interest rates, the media – for this state of affairs.

State governments, he said, are making “windfall profits”.

“Kingfisher has applied for direct import of fuel, so no sales tax is payable. This is the last resort to get fuel costs down to where they should be.”

At 29%, Tamil Nadu charges the highest sales tax on the fuel, while Hyderabad’s 20% – the lowest among the big cities – at the bottom. On an average, fuel costs about 60% higher in India than in other countries.

Mallya said the company, under a Rs 7,000 crore debt, needs Rs 800 crore to keep going. And bankers may have to oblige.

“We will have to provide additional working capital loan to Kingfisher as we can’t let a Rs 7,000 crore portfolio turn into a non-performing asset, especially with the pressure from rating agencies,” said the chairman of a bank, one of the 13-member consortium that has lent to the company.

“The discussion, if any, will be on the conditions.”

The ailing airline -second-largest after Jet-cancelled more than 250 flights last week, as 130 pilots quit in the past three months.

A revised schedule on Tuesday says the airline will offer 300 flights daily, down from 340 previously. 30% of its cabin crew of 1,800 has also quit. Kingfisher employs close to 7,000 people.

While denying that he had sought a bailout, Mallya gave the government a policy option.

“I do not see any reason why FDI (foreign direct investment) from strategic partners in airlines should be banned or not permitted. A general investor who has the opportunity in investing in other sectors may not care to look at an airline. Chances are an airline investor will look at an airline. FDI by strategic investor should be permitted,” Mallya said at a crowded press conference at Mumbai’s Hyatt Regency.

“To write the epitaph of Kingfisher constantly is not fair.”

Try telling that to his exiting passengers.

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