Centre steps in as Jet crisis worsens, pilot warns strike

New Delhi: The crisis at Jet Airways deepened on Tuesday as an increasingly worried government called for an emergency meeting, angry passengers demanded refunds and pilots threatened to go on strike over unpaid salaries.

The Civil Aviation Minister, Suresh Prabhu, asked his officials to call for a meeting to discuss grounding of flights, advance bookings, cancellations, refunds, and any potential safety issues, at the cash-strapped carrier.

Saddled with debt of more than $1 billion, Jet is struggling to stay aloft. Some lessors have started cancelling their lease deals with the airlines.

The groundings have forced Jet to cancel hundreds of flights, some at the last minute, leaving passengers stranded. Many have taken to social media to voice their angst.

Jet has grounded six more planes on Tuesday, now operating only 35 aircraft. The aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), said the situation is fluid and the airline may be forced to reduce its fleet further in coming weeks.

Several angry passengers were seen demanding pending refunds for cancelled flights at Jet’s offices in Mumbai earlier on Tuesday, a source told Reuters.

The airline’s pilots union has also said that pilots have decided to stop flying from April 1 if Jet does not have a rescue plan in place by March 31 and does not provide a proper roadmap on paying their overdue salaries.

“It is not about the salary right now, it is about whether we are going to survive,” one pilots told television news channel ET Now.

Jet Airways did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 25-year-old airline is in talks with its lenders— state-run banks led by State Bank of India (SBI) —and its biggest shareholder, Abu Dhabi-based carrier Etihad, to secure a rescue deal but talks have dragged on and it is struggling to finalise a plan.

While on the surface Jet’s future still hangs in the balance, there has been behind-the-scenes support from the government indicating that a bailout is likely.

The government has asked state-run banks to rescue the privately held airline without pushing it into bankruptcy, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to avert thousands of job losses weeks before a general election, sources have said.

Prabhu, in a separate statement on Tuesday, asked officials to continuously monitor the situation at Jet and ensure that public interest and safety are given top priority.

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