Kingfisher Airlines grounds aircraft on engine and financial woes

Kingfisher Airlines suffered a bird-strike incident last Friday. A simply dry report of the incident would read as,

A Kingfisher Airlines Airbus A321-232 registration VT-KFP performing flight IT-331 from Mumbai to New Delhi, India on October 8, 2010, suffered a bird hit. During the take-off run, a loud thud was heard, since the aircraft was already beyond V1 (decision speed), in accordance with established aviation practices, the pilot in command continued the take-off, and after being airborne, requested Mumbai ATC for a return back to the airport. The plane landed safely on one engine, and passengers disembarked normally. A subsequent inspection confirmed the ingestion of a large bird into the engine and also revealed extensive damage to the engine. Passengers were transferred on to other flights of the carrier.

In normal circumstances a bird stike is just one of the routine hazards of daily airline business, but in the case of Kingfisher, this incident has just added to the on-going engine woes at the airline, leading to many of its aircraft being grounded for extended periods of time.

VT-KFT, VT-DKR, and an unknown Airbus A320 family aircraft of Kingfisher

Across the nation one can see Kingfisher aircraft covered with silver coloured high density foil, which is normally used to seal up an aircraft meant for long term storage, missing their engines. When queried, an airline source said

We have just removed the engines which are due back from overhaul in 10 days. We have wrapped areas of the aircraft with plastic film for protection purposes.

An aircraft only earns an airline money when it is flying. It is normal practice for airlines to have VT-KFT Kingfisher Airlines Airbus A320 grounded due to IEA V2500 engine maintenanceas many as 50% engines as spares in their inventory, i.e. one additional engine for every two engined airframe. This minimises aircraft down time by enabling rapid swapping engines (typically at night) as they come due for maintenance. Keeping a serving aircraft grounded for ten days is unheard of.

It is no secret that the airline is suffering the ill-effects of its financial problems. The line of creditors is long, with some of the less critical ones waiting months on end for their payments. Even critical vendors, like lessors of capital equipment like airframes and engines, airports, and fuel companies, have been the victim of highly delayed payments from the carrier. In January 2009, the airline was court ordered to return aircraft to GE Commercial Aviation Services (GECAS) due to payment issues. At the same time the airline was forced to defer delivery on as many as 32 of 48 ordered Airbus aircraft, and divert many new aircraft to other airlines like Turkish THY.

The latest financial spat at the airline appears to involve engine vendors International Aero Engines (IAE) and Pratt and Whitney whose engines power the carrier’s Airbus A320 family fleet and ATR-72-500 fleet respectively. These spats have forced the grounding of as many as 19 aircraft, at airports across India, as the carrier is increasingly forced by creditors to make payments up front.

Kingfisher’s Airbus A320 family fleet is powered by the IEA V2500 engines, the same engines that power the A320 fleet at low fare competitor IndiGo. The V2500 has had some problems with the high pressure compressor drum assemblies. While, IAE has rectified the problems at IndiGo since the carrier was the launch customer of the V2500 SelectOne post-delivery maintenance program, Kingfisher has suffered the grounding of at least nine aircraft due rectification delays of the same problem.

Most likely, IEA has taken a hard stance, possibly demanding upfront payments or clearance of past dues, prior to rendering service, which would add to the existing cash flow crunch at the airline. It is logical to assume that Kingfisher may not have adequate cash to service and keep engines spare and this forcing the carrier to ground aircraft for ten days or more while the engines are being serviced.

In return, Kingfisher Airlines is threatening to make claims of Rs. 1,000 Crore (approx. $220 million) on the engine manufacturer, for “extra-ordinary costs of repair and revenue loss”.

For now, all one can say is stay tuned, the drama continues, but aircraft lovers just cringe at the sight of these airframes languishing across India.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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