Kingfisher – Will it ever remain the Fisher King ?

Written by: Vasudev SR

A few days ago the news flash headline in the TV news was indeed shocking to watch!!! Sushmita, wife of Manas Chakravarty, a 50-year-old employee at the engineering store in New Delhi, left behind a suicide note in Bengali that cited her family's poor financial condition as the prime motive for taking her life.

She was worried about the precarious financial condition of her family as her husband has been working without salary for a few months.

This news had a huge impact on the media and public given the fact that her husband is an employee of Kingfisher airlines.

Within a few days, the news followed that the airlines have declared a temporary lock out and have been served with a notice by DGCA to show cause as to why their licence need not be cancelled. The deadline set was Oct 20, 2012.

Kingfisher Airlines

These happenings were indeed saddening. The fact that you were denied salary for a period of seven months will surely squeeze the whole morale out of you.

How long can you prolong your life with mixed feelings of anxiety, fear and hatred along with hope? Everyday morning you have to have the hope of your salary being credited in your account and every night it would end in despair because of the truth staring in the opposite direction.

Each one of the airlines' employees has their own monthly commitments and continuous failure in meeting up those would dent their self esteem and question their social credibility.

In this era where organisations identify people as assets, it is their needs of sustenance which should form a priority to be taken care of.

I had a natural penchant for people issues. HR issues in Management never did escape my attention, thanks to my human resource specialisation during management studies. A sincere thought for my unknown and unpaid friends there really made me feel very sad.

The reflection of those feelings on my face was so conspicuous that my wife caught hold of it. She thought that as usual some official issues might have been the reason for botheration.

I shared with her those facts in detail too. "Oh God! These developments really give me a chill down the spine. How can we travel then?" uttered my wife.

She was referring to the travel plan which we had finalised with the same carrier at the end of October. My benevolent employer had given me an option of availing Leave Travel Concession once in every four years and we had booked our return flight with the carrier under mention.

Now, I am also roped into this issue and left with no other option than searching for an alternate mode of travel.

Memories took me back to the days when Captain Gopinath, with his vision of making every "aam aadmi" fly, had started 'Air Deccan'.

It took off well in its initial years, making the common man also feel that he is also destined to fly. It really infused some pride and sense of satisfaction among those who could have an initial ride on the so thought 'forbidden' space which only socially elite were expected to undertake.

The marketing was done in an excellent manner by announcing the low fares well in advance. The fares were as low as Re 1. But unfortunately, the happy days for the common man did not last long.

Kingfisher - a brand of UB Group is almost known to every urban commoner. When the group decided to plunge into the lucrative aviation sector, it was natural that the airlines would too be given their brand name.

Thus, Kingfisher airlines started operations on 2005. At the launch of the airline, Vijay Mallya said, "We are committed to achieving our ambition of making Kingfisher Airlines, India's largest private airline both in capacity and market share."

As Mallya envisioned, within four years of its operation, in May 2009, Kingfisher Airlines carried more than a million passengers, giving it the highest market share among airlines in India.

Common man's Air Deccan was acquired by Kingfisher. It was an outcome of the over-ambition of the carrier to be a leader of the Indian skies. Kingfisher's move also seemed an ill timed one.

Rising fuel costs and the free market economics acting against the existing carriers at that time seems to have been ignored at the time of acquisition. It also overlooked the aspect that it had never reported a profit since its inception.

Finally, it seems that the end game has begun for the airlines. At present, the airline needs urgent funds to pay off the debts due to banks, Government, employees and to cover a part of its projected losses.

It is on record that Kingfisher owes 17 banks around Rs 7,500 crore. SBI is the single largest exposure with Rs 1,580 crore. The other banks in the queue were IDBI Bank (720 Cr), Punjab National Bank (435 Cr), Bank of India (575 Cr), Bank of Baroda (530 Cr), Central Bank of India (420 Cr), UBI (350 Cr), Corporation Bank (150 Cr) etc.

Simply amazing it is, to see how these banks come forward for restructuring of loans to a single customer. Lobbying is still being made with the Government to push banks for another bailout.

In this era of slashing subsidies, had this been the approach to the loans taken by the common man/peasants/farmers, then 'India Shining' would have been a glaring aspect on the coming days to notice.

Kingfisher is not the first airline in India to face this kind of situation. Before shutting down operations, other airlines too have faced similar turbulence. East West Airlines (1991 - 1996), Damania Airways (1993 - 1997), ModiLuft (1993 - 1996), MDLR Airlines (2007 - 2009) and Paramount Airways (2005 - 2010) had faced a similar situation and headed for belly landing for economic as well as other reasons specific to them.

The way the present financial crisis was dealt by the management did not seem to be an encouraging one. While the company was making fervent appeals each time to its striking employees to get back to work, it neither let knew when it is going to pay the salaries nor presented any sustainable recovery plan.

Mallya also has not, till now, shown any inclination to bring in his own money to rescue the airlines. The audacity with which the airline is expecting Government intervention to save it needs to be deplored.

It is either perform or perish when it comes to market and Government should not use tax payer's money to rescue a private enterprise.

The management ineptness, unwillingness on the part of Mallya to pump in money and looking forward to the Government to cure the problems reminds me of the mysterious Fisher King, a character of the Arthurian tradition.

The name of the character, the airline brand name inverted, surprisingly finds its situation familiar to that of the airlines.

Suffering from wounds, the Fisher King depends for his healing on another person. It becomes the prototype for all variations of the Fisher King in literature. In every version of the story, though, the Fisher King is completely helpless, he depends on another to alleviate his suffering.

The cancellation of the licence of the airlines was the latest news flash while penning down this piece. Hope the UB Group and airlines management will wake up to the situation without any further delay and address the economic alarm without itself being the Fisher King.

After cancellation of its licence by the DGCA and with no proactive steps on the cards, it is time we seriously asked the question - Will it ever remain the Fisher King thereby naturally finding its way to choose the inevitable path for belly landing? Let us wait and see.

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