Opinion: Kingfisher Airlines’ license suspension actually helps Vijay Mallya

On Saturday India’s civil aviation minister Ajit Singh, announced that aviation regulator, the DGCA had suspended the operating permit of Kingfisher Airlines, after the carrier failed to respond to their show-cause notice.

With mountains of unpaid debts, the airline has been on life-support for some time now. Unpaid employees have been striking since October 1, resulting in a suspension of all flight operations by the Dr. Vijay Mallya promoted airline.

While many proclaimed their eulogies, the PR folks at the airline, called the suspension temporary

“We would like to clarify that this is not a cancellation but a temporary suspension which is valid only till such time that we submit a concrete and reliable revival plan to the satisfaction of DGCA.”

The alcoholic beverages (alcobev) business in India is at the intersection of public relations, sexually aspirational marketing, board-room machinations, manoeuvring around the hundreds of contradicting laws, gratification and slush funds of administrators and politicians.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I refuse to accept that a man who made his billions in this tricky business, will just fold up his airline, risking his personal assets and those of the UB Group, which have been given as surety on the loans to the airline.

Going out on a limb, I suspect, this suspension may be one last, desperate move by team Mallya, to scare the stakeholders, employees, banks, vendors, and government, into saving the airline.

The striking employees who have been unpaid for seven months have been taking a hard line. With the management offering only one month salary, reconciliation meetings till now have proved futile. Ahead of their meeting with the management on Monday, the suspension suddenly gave the employees a preview of cold, hard reality. If the airline goes under, not only will they not get their unpaid salaries, but they will have to look for new jobs in a shrinking Indian aviation market.

The banks which are refusing to lend any more funds, demanding the Mallya bring in about $500 million (Rs. 2,500 Crore) to re-capitalise the airline, were given a preview of Kingfisher going under. Banks have collateral for only about 10% of their loan exposure. A lengthy, expensive, legal recovery process is not a desirable situation for them. Recovery proceedings may also bring to the surface undesirable information and questions, about potential political influence in these government owned banks granting loans to the airline.

The vendors, especially the airports, the fuel companies, and lessors, who will have to commence lengthy and expensive litigation to recover their dues if Kingfisher goes under. The mess will get further complicated due to cross litigation between the various vendors. For example the lessors who own the aircraft will have to pay the dues of airports before they can take away their aircraft.

The Government, by ordering the suspension or cancellation of Kingfisher’s permit, has given Mallya the perfect escape route. He can now dump the entire problem in to the government’s lap, saying “What can I do? I did my utmost to save the airline, but the government cancelled the permit. Now they must deal with the consequences.”

The spin doctors are UB Group are masters in PR. We recently experienced how well they diverted the media’s attention away from the Rs. 60 Cr. humanitarian loan extended by banks. Get a Kingfisher stewardess out in protest saying she is out on the streets, and all the TV news channels will cover it from head to toe. In no time, public opinion will be turned, that the government must be humane and take care of those poor unpaid employees who are now out on the streets.

Last, but not the least, is us passengers and tax payers. Thanks to capacity reductions, fares are already up 20% in the last few months, and over 50% compared to last year. With the Dussera festival this week, kicking off the peak travel season till mid January, and Kingfisher out of the picture, fares will rise to astronomical levels. There will be a public outcry and the government will be forced to defend the situation with the Kingfisher spin doctors saying “See, we tried to save the airline. The government closed us down. These fare increases are due to that.”

The situation is being unfolded exactly how the King of Good Times wants it.

What are your thoughts on the suspension of Kingfisher’s permit? On my conspirator theory? Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

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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